“I’m the cow guy here,” says dairy producer Steve Bollant, who runs a 695-cow dairy and grows 1,800 acres of crops together with his brother near Stitzer, Wisconsin. “I am the one who always walked all of the pens eight to 10 times a day, looking for heats and checking the cows. Physically, I was getting so I couldn’t do it anymore.”

St cyr shane
Dairy Technology Specialist / Cargill

But he felt it was the best way to know what the cows needed, so Bollant continued to walk pens and watch cows.

Then he heard about animal monitoring technology. After learning about its capabilities – heat detection, early identification of developing health problems in cows with rumination monitoring and the ability to monitor individual cows as well as groups for change – he visited with producers using it. “One guy told me, ‘You will never walk a pen of cows again,’” says Bollant. And he was right!

Not only has Bollant been able to stop spending time in pens to observe heats and check for sick cows, but several key people on the farm now access reports from the rumination monitoring system and use that actionable data to take care of the cows. With rumination monitoring data, he no longer worries that he might be missing something by not walking the pens.

Repro results

The farm first focused on reproduction.


Prior to installing the technology, even with a synchronization program, a heat detection system and walking the pens several times a day, the herd’s pregnancy rate was only 15 percent.

Now with rumination monitoring, it is 25 percent. “I no longer walk pens; we have cut our OvSynch use by two-thirds; and we spend less time giving injections and rebreeding cows,” says Bollant. The farm still uses a synchronization program for some cows that need intervention, but they are not enrolled until 70 days in milk, and the system helps identify which cows need this help.

A powerful tool

Rumination monitoring has proven to be a powerful tool that increases users’ peace of mind while it improves their focus and care of cows – from nearly every management perspective.

Research published in the December 2012 Journal of Animal Science clearly demonstrated that cows with reduced rumination before calving maintained reduced rumination time after calving and suffered a greater frequency of disease than cows with greater rumination time in late pregnancy. Therefore, by monitoring this parameter, dairies can rapidly identify those animals that require a management intervention.

Other research has also shown that metabolic events starting two weeks before calving have effects on reproductive health one to nine weeks after calving, which in turn affects reproductive performance weeks to months later.

“With this technology, we get to the bottom of what’s wrong quickly,” says Bollant. Oftentimes, a day or more before clinical signs ever appear. And that not only improves cow health and cow performance, but animal well-being as well.

In addition to catching problems early, it helps dairies evaluate a change to see if it’s working. That leads to steady improvements in herd performance.

More parameters

The dairy also looked at rumination’s impact on milk production and animal health.

“We have good genetics, but the cows were not reaching their potential,” Bollant says. Milk production was averaging at just 67 pounds per cow per day for the herd. And there were always sick cows to treat. “In June and July [after a nutrition program change], we treated 18 cows for displaced abomasums [DAs],” he says. “We had too many sick cows.” There had to be a better way.

A new nutritionist with experience using rumination monitoring helped make a difference. In December 2014, the herd average was up to 94 pounds per cow per day. The high group averaged 121 pounds per day, and the heifer group averaged 89 pounds per day. “Best of all, we have only had three DAs since July, and two of those cows had twins,” he says. Cow health has vastly improved, easing concerns about productivity and health.

Was it worth the cost?

Investing in animal monitoring carried a cost, but it was well worth it, notes Bollant. Just the savings in semen and OvSynch about covers it, he says. “Add in the extra milk production and healthier cows, and it was a great investment for the health and production of the herd,” Bollant says.

Since installation, “Our cows start up well, they peak well and we have fewer health issues,” Bollant says. “We do a better job of meeting the cows’ needs.”

“I have always strived to do better, to always improve,” adds Bollant. With animal monitoring, now there is time to think, to plan and to investigate new ideas. Before, too much time was spent walking pens, rebreeding cows and treating sick cows. Now, he has the peace of mind that the cows will be monitored and well cared for even when he’s not there. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

PHOTO: Photo by PD staff.