Five of World Ag Expo’s Top 10 new products have direct application in the dairy industry. Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley interviewed the companies and innovators behind these new technologies.
The article introduces each of the award winners and discusses how they might help dairy producers be more efficient and profitable.
New beltless fan reduces maintenance without sacrificing power, efficiency
A new 72-inch fan claims to be the most powerful and most efficient belt-free ventilation fan on the market. The product should save farmers “thousands of dollars” in maintenance costs, says Terry Lyons, vice president of sales, marketing and engineering for J&D Manufacturing, the creator of the torque-drive Mega Storm 2 fan.
“No matter how efficient our belt-drive fans are, farmers still have to check belts at some point,” Lyons says. “Our customers told us they wanted improvements, so we listened.”
Typical belt-drive fans require regular maintenance to check for belt wear, belt tension and pulley alignment. That’s in addition to regular cleaning of fans, housings and propellers. Without this regular maintenance, fan efficiency will decline.
“A belt maintenance program ensures you’re getting the performance that you paid for,” Lyons says. “However, with our new product, this particular maintenance is not required at all because there are no belts. Only regular cleaning is required.
Plus, often times, 72-inch fans will lose 3 to 20 percent of their performance because of wear on the pulleys and belts. One huge benefit of our new fan is that it will operate at the designed rpm for the life of the fan.”
The fan generates air flows of 46,700 cubic feet per minute with 22.5 cubic feet per minute generated per watt of electricity at .05 inches of static pressure. That puts it on par with the highest-performing (50,000 cubic feet per minute) and the most efficient (24.6 cubic feet per minute per watt) 72-inch belt-drive fans, both of which are also manufactured by J&D Manufacturing.
The company has certified all of its fans’ claims as best on the market in its own test chamber, which is accredited by the Air Movement and Control Association.
“Imagine the most powerful and efficient fan combo on the market now available without belts. That’s a big thing for farmers,” Lyons says.
The fan’s energy efficiency exceeds the criteria for most rebate programs in the country, Lyons says, making it available for rebates to offset purchase costs.
The new product fits into the “direct drive” category of fans, even though its motor is indirectly connected to its propeller through a gear reducer. Gear reducers have been on the market for a number of years.
Lyons says they are “well suited” for the needs of the agricultural ventilation market. This product would most likely be used for ventilating tunnel- or cross-ventilated barns.
“This fan can handle high pressures and be operated in systems with or without baffles,” Lyons says. “It would be operated fall, spring and summer in most facilities.”
An additional benefit of the new fan is its lighter weight, Lyons says. The design of the new fan changed its frame’s construction, meaning that the finished product is lighter and easier to install. The new product will be available at the end of January 2017.
New product tackles milk fever prevention differently
A new product claims to eliminate clinical hypocalcemia and drastically reduce subclinical hypocalcemia with a completely different approach to feeding close-up cows.
The makers of X-Zelit introduced their calcium-binding feed additive to the U.S. in 2016 and now promote excluding supplemental calcium in 14-day close-up rations while feeding their product as a prevention tool for hypocalcemia.
This suggested approach is a departure from most low- or negative-DCAD close-up diets today, which rely on decreasing potassium in a close-up ration and adding anionic salts to acidify a cow’s blood and artificially increase blood calcium levels prior to calving.
More than 27 percent of producers in the U.S. utilize this feeding approach in more than half of all close-up cows, according to the USDA’s national Animal Health Monitoring System (2014).
Data from other smaller sample-size surveys suggest the adoption rate of this type of dry cow feeding practice is much higher, perhaps as high as 80 percent of U.S. cows.
“No other method of prevention can completely eliminate a drop in blood calcium (subclinical hypocalcemia),” says Lasse Jakobsen, a customer relations specialist with X-Zelit.
The company’s new product works to bind small amounts of calcium remaining in the ration after all supplemental sources have been removed. According to the company’s recommended low-calcium feeding approach, the product is fed starting 14 to 21 days before calving and targets the 30 to 80 grams of calcium that can be found naturally in dry cow ration feedstuffs.
Depriving the cow of calcium, the company claims, will signal her body to activate the parathyroid hormone earlier than she otherwise would, which is naturally triggered at calving and enables absorption of calcium in the blood.
“When she’s on our product, she’s already primed and ready to go at calving,” Jakobsen explains. “As soon as she calves, her system is already running; you take the product out of the ration at that time, and she’ll be actively absorbing calcium from her bones and the calcium in the fresh cow ration.”
One improvement of low-calcium feeding along with a calcium binder versus anionic salt feeding and DCAD balancing is ditching the need to monitor pH levels, the company claims.
The other improvement is a potential decrease in subclinical hypocalcemia cases. In 2014, research done at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, where the product was developed, showed 100 percent product efficacy in tiestall-housed cows fed the product under well-controlled conditions.
The same researchers also tested the new product under commercial farm conditions and showed an 86 percent reduction in all milk fever cases – clinical or subclinical. The product showed similar results in a trial in a commercial dairy in Georgia.
Researchers in the U.S. will begin studies in February to attempt to replicate the initial study’s findings, with the results expected later this year.
“When you treat milk fever, it’s too late. The damage has already been done, and the same story goes for subclinical milk fever,” Jakobsen says. “We’re trying to get rid of all hypocalcemia beforehand so there is no treating involved.”
The company points to the hidden cost of subclinical milk fever and the likely reduction in treatment costs as benefits of the product. The company suggests feeding 17.6 ounces or 500 grams per day of its product 14 to 21 days before calving. It can be mixed into a TMR or top-dressed, although TMR delivery is recommended.
As to high levels of potassium in forages and the monitoring of pH levels, you just “completely forget” about them, Jakobsen says.
“It’s hard to forget about it because that’s what everyone has been taught to monitor,” he says. “But you don’t have to worry about it at all with our product.”
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New hutch cover reflects solar radiation, keeps calves cooler
A new reflective plastic cover for calf hutches claims to reduce heat stress and improve calf comfort. Cool-Calf Covers launched its new product in 2016 after 10 years of work to adopt technology used in the space program for the dairy industry.
The result of that work is a 3-mil white polyethylene plastic with an aluminized coating on one side. When applied to a calf hutch, the plastic can lower ambient air temperatures inside by 8 to 15ºF, depending on wind speeds, according to the company.
The product can be ordered in rolls of 50 pre-cut single sheets. A single application of the plastic costs $8 to $10, depending on the quantity of covers ordered.
The covers are designed to be disposable after each calf’s use but often last an entire season on a hutch, the company claims. Several No. 6 self-tapping sheet metal screws and beveled rubber washers affix the reflective cover to the bottom edge of a calf hutch.
The holes created in the hutch by the small screws can be reused for new covers, says product developer and Texas A&M emeritus professor Ted Friend.
“A calf hutch is poor shade,” Friend explains. “Their surfaces heat up in the sun, which not only warms the air but also brings more radiant heat down onto the calf.”
Friend began researching calf heat stress in the Texas Panhandle more than a decade ago, where he says he saw ambient air temperatures inside calf hutches reach up to 115ºF. He wondered whether, if the hutches were reflective, they wouldn’t heat up as much.
Friend first tracked down the supplier of space blankets used to warm astronauts – but found the material to be too thin and unsuitable for the rough, outdoor environments found on dairies.
The product’s current manufacturer, Star Metallizing, is more aligned with agriculture markets and makes a “reflective mulch,” sold as Sun Up Reflective Films. This film is applied beneath row crops and between rows in orchards to reflect sunlight, which otherwise would be absorbed by the earth, back up into plants to accelerate their growth.
Reflecting sunlight with a hutch cover not only keeps air temperatures inside hutches cooler, Friend says, it also greatly reduces radiation from the hot hutch surface that has an additional warming effect on calves. In 2015, Friend sent a calf hutch sample to NASA’s materials lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to test it for solar radiation absorption.
Results showed the hutch absorbed nearly 84 percent of solar radiation. The same testing showed the material used for his hutch covers reflected 84 percent of solar radiation.
“While cows often stand during periods of heat stress to dissipate heat, calves in plastic hutches lie down to avoid the heat coming off of the hot ceiling,” Friend explains. “Even though the calf may be lying down in the shade, the hutch surface above it not only warms the air around it but also emits infrared radiation that also hits the calf and warms it.”
“Calf comfort is an important ethical and animal welfare issue,” Friend says. “These covers help with calf comfort, health and growth.”
Friend has also developed a black plastic with reflective coating for use in the wintertime to help heat calf hutches. The exterior black surface absorbs 94 percent of solar radiation which is conducted onto the surface of the hutch while the aluminized inner surface reflects 90 percent of infrared radiation back to the hutch and calf.
Israeli activity monitor now offers calving detection, alerts
The newest leg-mounted activity monitor from an Israeli-based company now has the capability to detect calving up to four hours before the actual event occurs. Producers with Afimilk’s wireless AfiAct II tag, which was released in January 2016, will have the calving prediction capability available immediately.
The tag monitors an individual cow’s level of activity, resting time and rest bouts to predict when calving will occur.
“What it’s doing is detecting changes in these three key parameters,” says Amir Ben-Yehoshua, product manager for Afimilk. “When it detects the right changes, it sends out a text message or email to anybody the farm assigns to receive them.”
Ben-Yehoshua says on-farm testing has shown the tags provide a positive prediction of calving 90 percent of the time and have an 80 percent accuracy rate for predicting a calving event that will happen within the next four hours. The system can also send out another alert if calving indicators last for more than six hours, indicting a prolonged or difficult calving.
The company recommends dairy farmers attach its wireless activity monitors when moving cows to the close-up pen, about 21 days prior to calving. (The pen must be within wireless internet range to transmit data regularly.) The tag collects data to build an activity baseline for each individual cow and uses deviations from that baseline to predict when the cow will calve.
Ben-Yehoshua says the tag requires seven to 10 days to build an accurate baseline. The right combination of an increase in activity, decrease in resting time and increase in resting bouts (the number of times a cow lies down and stands up) will trigger an alert.
“We were able to establish an algorithm that tells us when pregnant cows are performing all the actions that suggest they are about to calve,” Ben-Yehoshua says.
The company claims the tag will decrease producers’ costs to manage the calving area.
“Monitoring the maternity pen and the close-up pen is a top priority for dairy farmers. It’s a big burden and an expensive one,” Ben-Yehoshua says.
“You have to have very experienced people who can watch these cows and who have a good eye to detect when cows start calving. We are going to assist them by having something watch cows 24-7 without someone having to be present.”
The tag could also have benefits for cow comfort.
“Disrupting cows is bad for a proper calving,” Ben-Yehoshua says. “This service enables the farm’s staff not to need to visit the close-up pen that often. They can do it from a distance and trust the system to alert them to which cows need attention.”
The system can be programmed to send text messages or emails to any number of phones or email addresses. Smartphone use is not required.
“Now a dairy farmer can have peace of mind [about the maternity pen] because if something happens they are going to get an alert sent straight to their phone,” Ben-Yehoshua says.
Oxygen-barrier silage plastic now thicker and UV-resistant
A new silage plastic offering made with oxygen-barrier technology is now thicker and UV-resistant. The product, SilostopMax, is an additional offering from Silostop, an oxygen-barrier film company that has been in business in the U.S. for more than a decade. The new product is 80 microns (3.1 mil) thick.
The company will continue to sell its 45-micron (1.4 mil) offering in addition to this new one.
The company says the new product should eliminate waste, as an additional layer of disposable plastic need not be applied over the top of this new product.
“Throughout the world, Silostop’s thin 45 (1.8 mil) micron OB film is covered by either an additional heavy plastic film or a re-usable net or woven tarp – and in many countries, especially in Europe, both. The reason being that farmers believed that a thin film was not strong enough to avoid a double layer of plastic film or other protective cover.
Hence we started the development of a stronger version of our product that was also inherently UV-resistant so as to enable the use of a single film and, where possible, a re-usable protective cover, such as a net or woven tarp.
The use of a re-usable cover should have the huge environmental benefit of reducing the vast quantity of plastic film that is, throughout the world, simply thrown away or burned rather than being recycled,” the company said in an email after a request for comment about its new product award.
Many producers are already familiar with the benefits of oxygen-barrier film. According to the company, the use of its products are proven to reduce dry matter loss in the top 2 feet of a bunker silo or drive-over pile by up to 50 percent.
“In the U.S., we encourage dairy producers to use this product in conjunction with a protective cover, preferably a re-usable net or woven tarp, and we would hope that dairy producers follow this advice.
However, in some cases, we could imagine some dairy producers using only this new product without a protective cover, but we would urge caution as this option is still under evaluation at some key farms and research facilities,” a company statement said.
The company began developing this newest plastic line in 2015. It was made available in the U.S. in September 2016.
PHOTO 1: X-Zelit - New product tackles milk fever prevention differently. Photo courtesy of X-Zelit.
PHOTO 2: Cool-Calf Covers - New hutch cover reflects solar radiation, keep calves cooler. Photo provided by Ted Friend.
PHOTO 3: The newest leg-mounted activity monitor from an Israeli-based company now has the capability to detect calving up to four hours before the actual event occurs. Photo courtesy of Afimilk.
PHOTO 4: A new silage plastic offering made with oxygen-barrier technology is now thicker and UV-resistant. Photo courtesy of Silostop.