Technology is opening new doors to reduce heat stress, one of the leading causes of decreased cow comfort and milk production.
Martha Hoffman Kerestes is a freelance writer based in Illinois.

Charlie Hoffman, product owner of DairyBOS at VES-Artex intelligent barn systems, discussed emerging ways to monitor and manage heat stress in a recent webinar titled “Data-Driven Heat Stress Management.”

Since one of the signs of heat stress is increased respiratory rate and panting, Hoffman said his company is collecting data to correlate percentages of cows breathing heavily with outside temperature. DairyBOS is collaborating with Allflex to gather data on the percentage of animals that are breathing heavily in each pen to aggregate into an overall barn heavy breathing rate. 

Hoffman said initial data shows a direct correlation between heavy breathing and temperatures both outside and inside the barn, although there are a few exceptions. Additionally, once cows are heat stressed, it can take some time for them to recover to normal breathing after temperatures go down.

Current data on heavy breathing from Allflex is logged with about 30 minutes’ delay, and Hoffman said they are working on improving response time so that farmers could eventually see this data just a few minutes after it is collected from the cows.

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Going forward, Hoffman said they are looking to correlate the data with barn metrics including the temperature-humidity index and other data such as time of day and wind direction. Pinpointing cooler parts of the barn during different times of the day can be also useful in making decisions about adapting a ventilation strategy in conjunction with heavy breathing data. For example, maybe certain pens have higher heavy breathing values and would benefit from additional fans. Maybe the fans are not getting high enough velocity air to the cow level in the barn. Perhaps a high-pressure fogging system would be helpful.

In addition, Hoffman said they are seeking other data correlations that could be affected by heavy breathing, like milk production and dry matter intake. Using the cow as the mediator [monitor] can help inform decisions on overall barn environmental management. 

Measuring cow responses is just part of the full picture of emerging intelligent barn systems that can pull together a diverse set of data with equipment controls to provide multiple benefits.

“It all starts with the animal well-being – that’s obvious,” Hoffman said. “Cows like consistency, whether that’s in their diet, being milked or in their environment.”

Keeping a consistent, comfortable environment can help them eat well and rest more. He said a system of sensors in a barn can help maintain that healthy environment and allow farmers to monitor current barn information. With maximized cow comfort and productivity, the intelligent and automated system provides benefits like time savings for farmers and employees, reduced electricity and water use, and more money in producer’s pockets.

Hoffman compared the intelligent barn system to smart thermostats in homes that can be programmed to run automatically and be adjusted from a smartphone.

“The power is at your fingertips when we take a proactive rather than a reactive approach,” he said. “All those little wins collectively can really make a big difference.”

To take control of the barn, sensors can be used to collect data on things like temperature and humidity, ammonia, wind direction and wind speed, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter and methane. The information is collected with a goal. “Based on the data that we collect, what can we find from that and what can we learn from that?” he asked.

One such use of data is a graph comparing the temperature-humidity index inside the barn with the index outside the barn, which can offer feedback on how well the ventilation system is working. 

“It’s using other sensors that we have in the barn to really help us make decisions or see where we may be able to improve,” Hoffman said. 

While the data from sensors for things like temperatures can offer insights on management changes, sensors can also be used for monitoring things like the actual performance of fans. Seeing the performance of fans in real time is helpful, Hoffman said, and being able to adjust fans from a device means time savings and faster adjustments instead of putting it off. A visual map of fans allows a quick check to ensure fans are working properly, and if there is something amiss, the dairy farmer can arrange to fix the fans.

He also said they are working on more fan-related data collection and maintenance logs that can compare fan performance before and after service is completed. 

“The important thing is not so much just the collection of data, it’s how we use it,” he said.  end mark

Martha Hoffman Kerestes is a freelance writer based in Illinois.