Derek (from left), Scott, Dan and Jody Miller walk through the barn to check ear tags April 24 at Miller Time Farms near Avoca, Wisconsin. The SCR activity system has increased breeding success and overall herd health. 
Derek (from left), Scott, Dan and Jody Miller walk through the barn to check ear tags April 24 at Miller Time Farms near Avoca, Wisconsin. The SCR activity system has increased breeding success and overall herd health. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
AVOCA, Wis. – When Jody and Dan Miller updated their farm from a stall barn to a parlor and freestall setup in 2015, it was the first step in their expansion plan. After hiring employees and adding cows, they are finally utilizing technology they have planned for since the beginning.
Herd health is managed with SCR ear tags and DelPro parlor software. The ear tags monitor the cows’ activity while the parlor software is an identification system with a separate RFID tag that tracks events in the parlor, including pounds of milk. All of the data is sent to the office computer which is close to the parlor.
Jody said the technology has helped them achieve their herd goals and made adapting to a parlor easier.
“I love the ID in the parlor because when we were in the stall barn, you knew every single cow,” Jody said. “Now, you only see the udders, and we have a lot of new heifers. It tells us who they are and helps everyone identify a little better.”
The Millers milk 250 cows three times a day in a double-12 DeLaval Champion parlor and GEA inflations.
Jody milks the first shift with an employee and serves as parlor manager for the farm near Avoca, while Dan is in charge of breeding and herd health. Dan’s son, Derek, and Dan’s brother, Scott, are in charge of calf chores, mixing feed and taking care of the youngstock. Derek also runs the equipment for the farm’s custom farming operation in the summer.
The identification system records milking times, how long each cow took to milk and how many cows were milked, among other things. There is also an option to lock out cows, meaning the milk machine will not turn on in the parlor until a person manually overrides the system. This is used as a reminder that a cow is treated or going dry.
“This is just another safety,” Jody said. “It’s not foolproof, but it does help.”
The activity monitors are a separate system that tracks herd health of the cows. Data shows rumination, movement and heat detection on a detailed level. For example, the heat detection is shown on a graph with the optimal breeding time in green. At a determined time each day, the tags have a light that flashes if the cow is suspected to be in heat or if her activity is low.
Dan handles all the breeding on the farm and has the tags set to flash between 7-9:30 a.m. when he does his rounds. At that time, he can check the graph to see if a cow should be bred immediately or later in the day.
“The biggest thing is we check the (repeat breedings) and very few sneak on by you,” Dan said.
Jody said the program has been cost effective.
“The amount of money we have saved on semen is just ridiculous,” Jody said.
The activity reports notify the farm members on their phones if a cow is in distress. Dan said this has been helpful with monitoring dry cows and keeping up with fresh cows who may still be chewing their cud and not necessarily appear to be ill.
“She might be running a couple-degree temp, and if you give her some aspirin right away, you can catch it before it gets too bad,” Dan said. “A lot of times she’s back to normal within a day, and it doesn’t get worse than that.”
Because the technologies are separate systems, the Millers cross-reference the reports and use that data, along with a visual inspection of the cow, to draw conclusions.
They have also kept up with monthly Dairy Herd Improvement Association testing to use as an additional cross reference. This has helped keep their somatic cell count significantly low. They were recognized for their efforts by Scenic Central Milk Producers.
Jody said the SCC average was 57,000 for the year.
“It’s just management,” Jody said. “We’re right on top of it all the time.”
Besides scraping the stalls every milking, and diligently adding sand bedding to the stalls every couple weeks, the barn is scraped three times a day while milking. They have a strict milking procedure too. Cows are prepared six at a time by forestripping, predipping, wiping and attaching the unit.
They also rely on the California Mastitis Test and check any cows that show up with high SCC on the DHIA record along with every fresh cow. Animals with one bad quarter are milked with a quarter milker.
Even though it has been eight years since they milked in a stall barn, the memory remains fresh in Jody’s mind. She said she is grateful for the help of the new technology and staff.
“There isn’t a day or week that goes by that I miss that stall barn, but I don’t take it for granted,” Jodi said. “It’s so nice to have trustworthy help. I don’t take that for granted either.”