Best time for mating? Leave it to the cows 15 Sep, 2015 by Clare Bayly

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Best time for mating? Leave it to the cows

Like millions of dairy farmers around the world, Waikato farmer Mark Brown leaves it to the cows to let him know they’re in oestrous, in trouble or simply needing veterinary assistance.

Each cow in the herd is fitted with a pedometer which measures cow behaviour pattern and activity, over and above what is normal for each animal, is a trigger for such things as the cow being in oestrous, down or unwell.

Brown installed AfiAct heat detection into the new rotary built on his 180 hectare Waikato farm in 2004.

“We needed a new shed and wanted to couple that with the latest technology.  I was interested in anything which would give me insight to the health and production of each cow in the herd.  I also wanted to improve heat detection so I could go all AI and eliminate having bulls on the farm.

“I did a bit of research and learned about AfiAct, a heat detection and cow information system based on activity based monitoring.  International research confirming strong correlation between the timing of oestrus and cows’ increased activity was the basis for the development of AfiAct and, over the past 35 years, it’s gone on to become the leading automatic heat detection system in the world.

“The only problem was it wasn’t available in New Zealand, so I talked to Waikato Milking Systems, who were providing my rotary platform and technology, and they looked into it and now have exclusive distribution rights for AfiAct in New Zealand.”

The recently released new generation AfiActII activity based pedometer measures the walking, resting and standing activity of cows providing round-the-clock monitoring, enabling higher and more precise heat detection, cow behaviour and animal health.

“AfiActII contains significant enhancements in design and functionality. In effect, it puts you in the paddock with the herd – you can see if a cow is moving less (indicating lameness or animal health issue), restless (oestrous so you can pinpoint the best time for mating or, midway through the season, abortion), no movement (down).

“The heat detection module gives you heat patterns throughout a cow’s entire life along with fertility indexes, conception rate per bull and per inseminator.”

Information from the pedometer is automatically downloaded every hour to the farm computer or smart phone giving insights to the behaviour of every cow in the herd. 

The easily applied pedometer stays on the cow and works out her normal algorithm comparing this to the rest of the herd and picking up differences in her behaviour. Algorithms are preset but can be tailored to each farm eg lameness.

“AfiActII means we’re farming every animal more effectively which enabled us to reduce numbers from 650 to 500 without any impact on overall farm production or profitability.  It’s enabled us to maximise production from the farm and from the cows and enhance animal health etc.”

Brown liked it so much, he gave up the operational side of the farm three years ago to concentrate on promoting AfiActII (which is available from Waikato Milking Systems and their dealer network) and training people how to use it.

“If I didn’t use it myself I wouldn’t be recommending it as much as I am.  I wouldn’t farm without it.

“We’re going all AI on the farm this season saving grass, hassle and the cost (and inconvenience) of running bulls.

“It’s transformed the way we run our business and made us more profitable because you’re looking at the individual animal.

Heat detection is just one module in the AfiActII range which includes daily analysis of milk and conductivity (measures fat, protein and lactose and also detects mastitis), drafting, weighing etc.