This year California experienced the worst drought in history followed by an unusually hot summer. Yet our cows have maintained a relatively high level of production and good health.
I attribute this success to my employee’s excellent attention to cow comfort and care. Of course spending a lot of money on cooling systems, bedding, and feed ingredients plays a part as well.
But none of the success we’ve been experiencing would be possible if we didn’t have a management plan in place. And one key element is the ability to measure results.
That’s where technology comes in. Dairies have access to all kinds of technology to help manage cow comfort. Activity monitors, rumination monitors, pedometers, and milk meters are a few.
There is also the good old fashioned technique of going out in the corrals and looking at the cows. There are a few mobile apps that make managing cow comfort a snap.
Nothing has more impact on cows than heat. Understanding how heat effects dairy cows and what to do about it is the key to cow comfort.
ThermalAid is an app for iOS and Android created by the University of Missouri to help with heat stress. The app uses your local weather data and displays the Temperature Humidty Index (THI).
The app shows a scale of green, yellow, orange, and red based on the current THI. Depending on which stage your cows are in, the app suggests things to do to help reduce stress.
There is also a feature to determine the actual stress level of individual animals. Take your phone to the corral and find a few cows with different breathing patterns. Push the timer button, count 10 breaths, then push the button again. The app shows the number of breaths per minute and indicates the severity of her stress with a color.
Depending on the color, the app suggests management changes to help reduce her stress. Some of these suggestions include, wetting cows out of the barn and concentrating feed rations.
Lameness is another production killer on a dairy. There are many causes behind lameness including diet, poor coral conditions, and heat. This is an area where we depend on our employees to find and sort animals with problems.
The University of Wisconsin’s Locomotion Scorer app is the tool we use to train employees and measure lameness in our herd.
The app shows pictures and videos of cows walking next to numbers one through five. As cows come walking out of the barn we compare their gait to the videos. When we see a two, we push the 2 button on the app. The same applies for cows with a gait of three through five.
At the end of the pen, the app charts the results and compares them to what is optimal.
Other Areas of Comfort
There are other areas of cow comfort that can be measured. Hock lesion scoring, cud chew counting, Cow Comfort Index, Stall Standing Index, and Stall Use Index are all areas where data can help improve comfort. Until apps are developed for these metrics, you can use Google Drive Forms to create your own app for collecting data on the dairy.
Mobile apps can be an effective tool in any management system. But don’t forget, “The most important things cannot be measured”, like good people.