Photo | Paul Redmore

Remote Mon­i­tor­ing for Health And Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty

A tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion is chang­ing the face of mod­ern dairy farm­ing in the form of a bolus that can detect tem­per­a­ture, activ­i­ty and pH, send­ing ear­ly alerts of heats, calv­ings and ill­ness to the pro­duc­er.

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.”

The Smax­tec bolus is admin­is­tered like a med­i­c­i­nal bolus and sits in the retic­u­lum mon­i­tor­ing tem­per­a­ture and activ­i­ty. (Pho­to: Helen Hollingsworth)

Heat Detec­tion

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.”

Using the bolus­es has helped Paul Red­more diag­nose issues up to 24 hours ear­li­er than before, reduc­ing his antibi­ot­ic usage. (Pho­to: Olivia Coop­er)

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.

Farm Facts

  • 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.”

On Neston farm the bolus tech­nol­o­gy is used for selec­tive dry cow ther­a­py as the tem­per­a­ture read­ing indi­cates the onset of tox­ic mas­ti­tis. (Pho­to: Olivia Coop­er)

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.”

Finan­cial Gains

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.

Paul Red­more

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.”

Herd Facts

  • 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%).