The International Precision Dairy Farming Conference was held in Leeuwarden, Netherlands from June 21 to June 23, 2016. Researchers, veterinarians, producers, students, and industry members from around the world came together to visit farms across the Netherlands, present current research, and discuss new technology to improve worldwide understanding of dairy cattle.

To help the attendees develop a better understanding of the European dairy industry, multiple farms using precision dairy technology hosted the conference participants. Dairy Farm “Dem Hartog” was in the North Friesian countryside. Milking 500 cows in a rotary parlor, the Dem Hartog family uses technology to modernize their dairy operation. The rotary consisted of 40 stalls, and 2 DeLaval (Tumba, Sweden) pre- and post-dip spray machines. Milking the cows twice daily, 150 cows were milked each hour and could be separated immediately after milking into distinct pens for pregnancy checks, trimming, or health checks. The family boasted of a cull rate near 15%, compared to the Netherlands national 27% average. Their current daily production was near 68 pounds, with a 4.45% milk fat and 4.05% protein. CowManager SensoOr (Utrecht, The Netherlands) was used to track eating time, activity, ear temperature, and heat detection within their herd. CowManager SensoOr were also applied to calves to assist in detecting fevers associated with bovine respiratory disease and diarrhea. Additionally, the farm had a water purification system (Watter!) to ensure clean water in all the water troughs. The company suggested that a purifying system can increase daily drinking by 7 gallons per cow, resulting in better health and production.

The second family farm visited, “Boersma,”operated 8 DeLaval robots for milking, Herd Navigator for tracking activity, and DeLaval’s automatic body condition score camera for monitoring health. With the purchase of the DeLaval robots and Herd Navigator, the producer started producing 2.15 more lbs of milk per cow for $0.05 less per cow. The herd averaged 4.05% milk fat and 3.6% protein milking with the robots. The farm also boasted of a straw calving area and guided cow traffic, allowing the producers to easily separate cows for health and pregnancy checks. The DeLaval automatic robots used force flow traffic, so cows had to visit the automatic milking system before lying down. Cows passed under the body condition score camera after each milking to track changes in body condition throughout lactation. The camera helped to identify cows with rapid changes in body condition so the producer could evaluate transition period management.

The final visit was to the Kalma family farm milking 450 cows on 3 GEA (Dusseldorf, Germany) robots. By putting their robots in the middle of the barn, all cows had to travel an equidistant to the machines to reduce cow flow problems. The producers also invested in a locational tracking system through GEA that allowed them to track cow location 24 hours per day. The system registered which cows were in the freestalls, at the feedbunk, or in the milking machines so a producer could spend less time searching for cows. Additionally, the producer focused on feeding a partial mixed ration using green chop.

In addition to farm visits, multiple researchers and industry professionals presented current research in dairy technology. Researchers from University of Calgary and University of Kentucky teamed up to validate Smartbow (Weibern, Austria), an ear-based real time locational technology. Using University of Kentucky’s old freestall barn, a two-part study was conducted to determine the accuracy of SmartBow. Smartbow was determined to accurately measure real-time cow location within approximately 3 feet of the actual location. Smartbow could help all producers find specific cows within a housing structure and determine how cows’ spend their time within a facility.

Researchers at the University of Sydney explored methods to encourage grazing cows to walk to the automatic milking systems while providing heat stress abatement. Australian producers face hot temperatures and long walking distances during the summer months. Therefore, enticing cows to the parlor is crucial for dairy operations’ success. Using movable, shaded, lightweight structures, along the path to the parlor increased cow movement without requiring additional labor. By providing three additional 100 ft2 shaded zones on the path to the parlor, cows spent greater time stopped underneath the shade, but showed no increase in milk production or decrease in body temperature. More research into heat stress and cow movement must be pursued in order to better understand manipulating grazing herds’ movement under heat stress.

Keynote speaker Dr. Schukken, the Chief Scientific Officer at GD Animal Health in Deventer and a Professor of Management of Farm Animal Health at Wageningen University discussed the use of technology to improve heat detection  and cow health versus blanket protocols. As technology becomes more prevalent, producers must consider the cost of investing in new technologies versus the cost of treating individual cows or blanket treatment protocols. Across multiple studies, researchers determined that some blanket protocols can be more effective management tools for cows than individual protocols for each cow. Looking at heat detection, cows had a higher conception rate and decreased days open using technologies rather than sync protocols. Additionally, blanket dry off treatment for mastitis resulted in a decreased risk of mastitis after calving compared to individual cow and quarter treatments. As technology increases in accuracy and demand for decreased antibiotic use becomes more prevalent, the dependence on technology may increase. However, Dr. Schukken suggested that technology must be used in conjunction with common sense and good farm management to be most effective.

A few new technologies were also highlighted at the Precision Dairy Conference. For grazing herds, invisible fences have become the next way to manipulate grazing patterns without producer’s moving gates or expensive infrastructure. Using invisible electric signal, cows hear a sound when entering within a certain distance of the invisible fence. If they ignore the sound, and continue, cows then receive a small shock to indicate that cows cannot graze in that area. Researchers reported that cows learned to listen to the alert within one to two days.

Tail mounted calving devices also have become more prevalent as a method to predict calving date. Because studies have shown an increase in tail movement directly before calving, the devices are mounted at the base of the tail with greater tail head movement indicating calving. Subsequent alerts are also released to give a better prediction of calving time. With better information about calving, producers may be better able to check and aid cows requiring assistance.

To better understand how cows move, research is being conducted using pressure mats to track foot placement, distance between steps, and pressure applied to specific regions of the hoof. Monitoring the way lame and sound cows walk may help to better objectively diagnose lameness in cows, although they are not yet commercially available. Because mats require fewer steps than typically needed for visual or video observation, ulcers, foot rot, and other hoof problems could be detected and addressed earlier.

If you are interested in attending a similar conference this year, the Precision Dairy Farming conference will be head in Lexington, Kentucky May 30 to June 1, 2017. There will be an opportunity to explore some of the technologies discussed and new innovative technologies the University of Kentucky is researching. For more information, check out:

Authors:  Amanda Lee and Jeffrey Bewley

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