Technology will play a greater role on the modern family dairy farm

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Technology tends to evoke various emotions in people especially in our industry which has a foundation built on values and tradition. These aspects are what make our industry priceless. However, we must remember what has carried us successfully through generations of dairy farming and must continually discover new ideas and implement changes – changes that seem to be occurring at an increasingly rapid pace.

Technology in dairy now appears to be everywhere. The types of technology that a dairy can decide to implement are immense, ranging from cow wearables to robotics, in-line milk sensors and cameras using machine learning, to name a few. Dan Weiland, Alltech’s dairy business manager, correctly said technology will take dairy to the next level.

That has proven accurate at our dairy, altering the course of our farm and what we thought success could be. It’s allowed us to see what limits we can push while enhancing cow welfare, milk quality, and our cows’ natural behaviors. Our conversations have changed from, “Can we meet our goals this year?” to “How lofty can our goals be?”

So, what has led to this change? The single most significant transformation began when our dairy installed an automated monitoring system that records individual cow activity and rumination, milk conductivity, daily milk weights and group breathing rates.

Utilizing the data to make daily management decisions has been, as Malcolm Gladwell said, the tipping point. At NexGen, we focus on the three things that we know our cows need to do exceptionally well to be successful. They need to eat, sleep and drink. To do that, we need to maximize cow comfort and let our cows be cows. Rather than our team handling or examining the cows, we rely on our AMS to gather information on each cow and the herd, eliminating touchpoints and stress. Our cows are monitored 24 hours a day, with real-time data reported directly to our phones. Advanced health alerts are even sent via text to our team, enabling them to identify and aid a sick cow early in the disease process. Research has proven that AMS systems can detect diseases accurately up to two to three days earlier, depending on the disease process. Earlier detection of disease processes leads to better outcomes. Cow longevity at NexGen is essential, and technology has enabled us to increase our average lactation goals for our herd, reducing our number of replacements.

That being said, the cow health data is not the only factor that allows us to strive to reach our goal of milking older cows; successful reproduction also plays a key role. The AMS technology has altered our reproduction goals to new heights. The system has improved the quantity and accuracy of our heat detection and conception rates. Our timing of insemination is much more accurate, and we now segregate our timing of A.I. by the type of semen being used. Both monitoring cows for heat and implementing synchronization protocols take large amounts of time and labor. Implementing the AMS system in our cow herd and breeding heifers has allowed us to reallocate much of the labor spent on reproduction.

When looking to implement technology in any form, we would advise dairies first to identify the most significant bottleneck that needs to be corrected before subsequently spending time evaluating a specific technology. Other considerations should be on how data are reported. Is it easily interpreted? Reported data that isn’t used to make any management decisions is useless. Can the technology be used to aid in multiple areas? Our AMS system aids our team in herd health and reproduction, milk quality and time management of our employees. When considering a specific technology, the final areas of inquiry are data integration, the lifespan of the hardware and software, maintenance and technical support, and the return on investment for a specific technology.

Technology in dairy is here. The technology we have seen in the last few decades is just a stepping stone to the new heights that dairy will reach. And that’s the one thing that will not change: Our drive to collaborate, innovate and be more efficient while building on those generations before us.

Megan Schrupp and Ellen Stenger are sisters and co-owners of both NexGen Dairy and NexGen Market in Eden Valley, Minnesota. They can be reached at Nexgendairy@gmail.com

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