The days when cow conditions had to be diagnosed through visual signs are over, meaning farmers can hone-in on efficiencies, detect changes faster and improve performance all round. One farm manager in Wiltshire has been doing this for just over two years using a temperature and activity bolus.
Arriving at Neston Home Farm, the first thing that comes into view is a large English country house, but just behind this grandeur is a modern organic Jersey herd, which supplies the likes of Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and by royal appointment, through Ivy House Dairy.
Running the 300-head operation near Melksham, Paul Redmore has been working on the estate for the past five years. In that time he has made a number of changes, from installing a new parlour to introducing Smaxtec boluses to the herd – something which has improved efficiencies no end.
“The system works using a rumen bolus that sits in the reticulum, and is administered much like a medicinal bolus,” explains Helen Hollingsworth, agritech specialist at supplier Mole Valley Farmers. “This constantly monitors temperature and activity and sends alerts to the farmer’s phone if there is any change in normal activity or temperature; giving a really good heads-up for illness, heat and whether the cow is drinking enough water.”
About four years ago, Mr Redmore was looking to invest in heat detection technology, but was unwilling to use collars as he felt they would spoil the aesthetics of the cows and the estate. He came across Smaxtec and trialled it in 50 cows, but was so impressed that six months later he expanded it to the entire herd. “It was opportune that it came to the market at a time when I was looking for something – and being inside the cow, it is safe and cannot fall off or be ripped out.”
In the past year, Mr Redmore has seen the calving-to-conception rate fall from 95 to 72 days through better identification of bulling cows. “The fertility side is very good: It’s certainly made an impression on us,” he says. “But what really lights our candle is the health side and the temperature monitoring and activity.” Using the boluses in this way has helped Mr Redmore diagnose issues up to 24 hours earlier than before, reducing his antibiotic usage. “We have really honed-in on mastitis and utilise the extra diagnosis time by doing our own mastitis typing on farm,” he explains.
“It gives us confidence to know the cow has picked up mastitis – even if there are no visual signs – and we will go in with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and peppermint oil on the udder. Then after we’ve typed the bacteria we can make a decision on what treatment protocol to follow – so antibiotics are more targeted.” He can also tell from the mastitis typing that 85% of cows will have gram-negative infections, which will self-cure – further reducing the need for antibiotics.
- Neston Farm, Neston, Wiltshire
- 730ha, all organic; including 400ha of grassland and 200-243ha of arable; mainly wheat, barley, oats and triticale; 40ha in conservation schemes
- 300 pedigree Jersey cows plus youngstock
- 150 beef animals: A mix of Jersey x British Blue and Jersey x Aberdeen Angus
- 250 contract-managed breeding ewes: Lleyns and Mules Four staff, including Mr Redmore
Dry Cow Therapy
Another way Mr Redmore uses the technology is for selective dry cow therapy as the temperature reading indicates the onset of toxic mastitis. “We use teat sealant on about 75% of the herd without the need of antibiotics, and antibiotics on the other 25%,” he explains. “The risk there is that if you seal a mastitis bug in, she will get toxic mastitis, so we keep our dry cows within range of the Smaxtec reader – via a receiver in the field or shed – for three or four days after drying off.”
“In the past two to three years, we have picked up two or three cows that were going down with toxic mastitis, which has saved their lives.” The bolus also picks up on milk fever, flagging up lower temperature and activity. “It’s a great aid, so we can tell remotely what’s going on with that cow.”
Another benefit for Mr Redmore is the calving alerts. He receives alerts that a cow’s body temperature has dropped on average 18 hours before she will calve. “This allows us to focus our attention on cows that are imminent. It’s about 95% accurate and means if she hasn’t calved within 24 hours, we will examine her to make sure everything is okay.”
But it’s not just the cows which benefit from the technology: Mr Redmore has installed temperature and humidity sensors in his calf sheds, with great success. “Pneumonia has been a big issue in the past four years but this winter we got on top of it. We will notice a peak in humidity, followed 10 days later by a bout of pneumonia, so this forewarns us of a risk period. We are then more observant and react much quicker to any signs.”
So how affordable is the system? Mr Redmore spends around £10/cow per year on it, and through reduced calving intervals alone it has gained the business £18,000 in the past 12 months – based on each cow earning £3 a day in milk for an extra 20 days across the 300-cow herd. “That isn’t even taking into account the health side, where we have saved cows by picking up things like toxic mastitis,” he explains.
Mrs Hollingsworth suggests the average return on investment period is around 12 months. “This depends on the farmer, but it is one of the most cost-effective systems. The battery life of the bolus is about five years and further boluses can be put into the cow once the battery has depleted.”
I’ve always been a firm believer that we should be embracing technology, but we still need to be on the ground to see what is going on.
In the future, Mr Redmore hopes to integrate Smaxtec with the DelPro data from his DeLaval parlour and use them together. “It is the way forward for me. You can cross-reference milk data; like changes in milk yields or conductivity, along with temperature and activity data from Smaxtec to focus on problems and build up a better picture of individual cows.” He hopes that in time, he will be able to utilise more data to identify different issues ahead of time. “I’ve always been a firm believer that we should be embracing technology, but we still need to be on the ground to see what is going on. Interpreting the data is as important as the data itself.”
- Producing around 5,500 litres per cow a year
- Butterfat: 5.3%
- Protein: 4%
- SCC: 160,000
- DeLaval DelPro 24/24 parlour
- Calving to conception rate (AI) reduced from 95 days to 72 days after introducing Smaxtec Calving interval: 400 days for whole herd including cows to natural service and culls
- Calving to first service reduced from 54 days to 42 days
- Conception rate: 42-43% to AI sexed semen
- Predominantly autumn calving
- Using mostly sexed semen
- Replacement rate: 20%
- Milk goes to: Luscious Ice Cream (1-2%); on-farm artisan cheese (1-2%); Ivy House dairies – which sells bo led milk, cream and bu er to Harrods, Monmouth Coffee, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges (50%); and Alvis’ Lye Cross cheese, which mostly goes to America and Korea (45%).