July 6, 2017

Let the Rumen Be Your Guide

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Usually the engine light in your truck comes on before any real dire situation happens under the hood. You can decide whether to heed the light’s advice and stop to see what’s wrong, or ignore its warning and keep driving.

Likewise, technology lets us know when a cow’s rumen may be off. Rumination monitors can signal when a cow may be on the verge of a health event, or coming into estrus. Paying attention to those indicators can help understand group dynamics as well as provide individual care to cows in need.

John Greenwood started using rumination monitoring in his 1,350-cow herd near Canton, New York in December 2015 on the advice of his nutritionist, George Jarrett, who is a team leader and managing partner with Cows Come First, a 19-person nutrition consultant group. Ironically, Greenwood says nutrition wasn’t the main reason for installing the system, noting the herd averages about 96 pounds per cow per day. He cites two primary reasons for going to the collars: reproduction and herd health. “We weren’t happy with our heat detection,” he says. “And we didn’t think we were finding cows quick enough that were coming down with something.”

Jarrett was tasked to find the system that fit with Greenwood’s needs, settling on the system from SCR Dairy. The heat detection aspect was the biggest reason, and the rumen monitoring was an added benefit. “We weren’t having prefresh or metabolic problems,” Jarrett says.

Reproduction results have been the easiest to identify benefits. “The heat detection, conception and pregnancy rates over the last year have done some amazing things,” Jarrett says. “Better reproduction has allowed us to keep more cows milking on the front end of lactation which has meant more milk for the dairy, less time giving prostaglandin shots since that rarely happens now, and they’ve saved a lot on semen because we don’t spend a lot of time rebreeding cows.”

The animal health side has taken a little longer to get a handle on, Greenwood says, but it has been valuable in finding cows that have the potential for showing a health event. Jarrett still manages rumination data on a group basis but uses the rumination data to identify possible issues with a specific cow. “If we get a displaced abomasum in a cow we always go back and look at what might have caused it,” he says. “For example, if we see that four weeks ago on the rumination data she had a hiccup, we can see if it happened in the prefresh or dry cow group and try to explain why she got the DA.”

The data from the monitors also helped identify an employee issue. “We had someone dedicated to pushing up feed who was doing a great job, but we noticed rumination issues on his day off when it was another person’s responsibility,” Greenwood says. They were able to retrain the part-time employee to make sure feed was being pushed up in a timely manner.

Like a lot of instances where new technology is being adopted, the biggest issue with installing and using the rumen monitoring was letting the technology do its job and believing in the results. “I don’t think they believed the system could do what it has done,” Jarrett says. “We had a little bit of a learning curve on the reproductive side, but as we trusted the system reproduction turned right around.”

Adoption took a little longer on the rumination side because the Greenwoods and their herdsman still believed they could find cows off feed faster than the system. Jarrett says over the past few months they’ve learned to trust the system and have seen positive results. “The system makes good herdspersons better by helping them find things that they might not have found on their own,” Jarrett says.