How To Effectively Use Video Monitoring On The Dairy
Whether dairy video systems save time or waste money depends on several factors.
Chris Weaver, owner of Bridgewater Dairy in Ohio, has used video systems on his 6,000-cow, three-site dairy for many years. He recently expanded the surveillance system and uses it to monitor animal welfare and performance.
“I was excited to see there was a tool we can use very effectively to make sure employees are doing their job the right way,” Weaver says.
Bridgewater Dairy had three to five cameras on each farm site originally but expanded to 20 to 30 cameras per site.
Brent Raeth, managing partner at CatchMark Technologies, worked with Bridgewater Dairy’s expansion and says he has installed camera systems on more than 30 dairies in the Michigan, Ohio and Indiana region.
“Typical dairies want cameras in the maternity and parlor areas, the time clock/breakroom areas, fuel points, maybe one in the shop,” Raeth says. “If you want to go minimalistic, I would recommend at least eight to 12 cameras and estimate a cost of around $3,000 to $5,000.”
Duarte Diaz, a dairy Extension specialist in Arizona, recommends cameras in protocol-intensive areas like milking parlors, in secure areas like bulk tanks and medicine storage, and in inefficient areas.
“Cameras could help you look at how traffic gets in and out of the facility and why there may potentially be bottlenecks,” Diaz says. “For example, maybe one tractor needs to get out before the other gets in.”
Weaver says he uses the video system primarily to spot-check problems and estimates he could watch an entire night’s video in only 45 minutes. He has the capacity to store videos for 30 days but typically maintains footage for 15 days.
“Some weeks we don’t watch it at all, and sometimes I have someone watch it for two or three hours depending on what we feel is going on in the barns.”
He posts signs at farm entryways about the farm being under surveillance and helped employees ease into being monitored.
“We did very little review for the first few weeks to give them some time to get used to them,” Weaver says. “Now that we’ve had them for four or five months, we are using the videos a bit more to say, ‘We’ve been talking with you about this, and here’s some video of you doing what we requested.”
Diaz adds cameras can show the ‘Why?’ behind employee protocols.
“Let’s say an employee startled an animal in the pen,” Diaz says. “You can get the data from your cameras to show, well, the animal then took longer to milk.”
However, Raeth cautions a video system’s effectiveness can be limited by a farmer’s technology investment. That investment should start when new barns are built to install wiring infrastructure.
“You wouldn’t try to do nutrition on your own at a dairy,” Raeth says. “Technology needs to be looked at in the same way. If I was starting a dairy up from scratch right now, I would get somebody I trust that understands technology to help build in the baseline technology.”
He adds if a dairy does not have a clear budget section for technology after it is installed, it is unlikely a farmer will continue to invest or use the expensive system to its full potential.
Weaver echoes the importance of having a technology support relationship.
“It took about three months, and we had two cameras break. Our tech company was out in about three days and fixed it.”
Proper investment can reduce video systems being underutilized, a problem Diaz says occurs on 85 to 90% of the dairies he advises.
“I see opportunities in both the area of precision agriculture and labor side for people with specialized technology skills to have video systems become their sole responsibility on the farm.”