Dean Smith, Dairy farmer
Dean Smith, Dairy farmer
    Technology is constantly increasing on dairies across the nation. To help producers find the right addition to their farm, Form-A-Feed had a producer panel called “Technology, automation and your dairy farm” during its Jan. 14 virtual annual conference.
    Four Minnesota dairy farms shared their experience with technological advancements. Co-Jo Dairy milks 900 cows near Grove City. Owner Joe Jans along with the farm’s herd manager, Jennessa Thompson, talked about the use of the SCR system for cow activity and health monitoring.
    Landwehr Dairy, owned by Denny and Marlene Landwehr, operates near Watkins. Herd manager, Theresa Galvan, shared on the panel about the farm’s use of Cow Manager to monitor health and fertility, along with EZfeed, a feed management software.
    Rick and Sarah Ahlgren spoke about the use of Lely robots, feeding system, auto scrapers and activity monitoring system on their farm, Ahlgren Dairy, where they milk 165 cows near Darwin.
    The final panelist, Dean Smith, shared his use of the SCR system; FeedWatch, a feed tracking software; and DairyComp for reproductive management.
    “I wasn’t super tech savvy,” Smith said. “But once you learn the curve it’s very good technology to get ahold of and very beneficial for many reasons – cow health, efficiencies, inventories.”
    Smith said he spends a couple hours a day doing computer work.
    “It’s just a lot of stuff you do on computers now that 10 to 15 years ago you did more visual or with pencil and paper,” he said.
    Galvan said even though there is a learning curve to using technology, the ones she uses are easy to operate.
    “They try to make it as user friendly as possible,” she said.
    While the Ahlgrens had a lot of technology to learn at one time with their new automated facility, they said there are ways to work through it with the right people to support them.
    “Almost every small issue we had (right away) … we were able to resolve over the phone,” he said. “We have a lot to learn, … but that will all come with time, and we’re excited to be able to use it to more of an extent.”
    All four farms have seen improvement in their reproduction because of the activity systems. Prior to the using an activity monitoring system, the Ahlgrens bred cows based on visual heats.
    “We were missing a lot and the silent heats,” Rick said. “We didn’t have the data at the time to improve it.”
    Now their breeding is more accurate, and they are inseminating cows at the right time. To further improve the herd’s reproduction, the Ahlgrens are going to implement a synchronization program starting at 100 days in milk for cows that do not show heat.
    Galvan said it took time to trust the system.
    “The technicians we had at first were unsure the program was picking up heats,” she said. “But then the next day the cow would bleed off so now they fully rely on it.”
    In addition to breeding cows using the farm’s activity system for the past 3.5 years, Landwehr Dairy uses a presynch and double ovsynch program.
    Co-Jo Dairy has been using the SCR system for the past five years. Before that, the dairy relied on tail painting and an ovsynch program. Since the switch, the dairy has seen an increase in pregnancy rate, which is now at 28%. It also saved $5,000 per month from cutting back on ovsynch shots.
    Smith, who has been using the same system, had tail chalking with ovsynch prior. He likes the objectivity of the technology.
    “If you manage enough employees through your days, two of the hardest things to train people to do are heat detection because everyone has a different idea if that cow is in heat or not, and detecting sick cows,” Smith said. “There are a lot of things to look at. One person’s idea of a sick cow is different from the next. With the system, it picks those up.”
    Consistency from the use of technology also helps the dairy’s profitability.
    “If you can take out the employee or management variability and give it to a technology that gives you solid information, it’s going to improve your efficiencies and your bottom line,” Smith said.
    Rumination – whether on an individual basis or looking at the herd as a whole – has helped all the farms.
    “You can catch a cow before they’re sick,” Jans said. “We’ll give them some probiotic pills, and by the next day they’re usually back going and they don’t show up again.”
    This has significantly reduced the antibiotic use at Co-Jo Dairy.
    “That was a key thing we put this in for,” Jans said. “As the industry is getting tougher on antibiotics, we’re hoping to get rid of some of that and don’t have to do a lot of treating on animals.”
    Feed tracking software at Landwehr Dairy has helped with keeping feed inventory and calculating feed projections for each year.
    “It makes communication (between different feeders) easier and makes an impact on cows not running out of feed,” Galvan said.
    Smith said having a feed tracking software also allows him to see if there are feeder errors.
    “It keeps people accountable and on task,” Smith said. “If you have a really good feeder and things are going really well it might not be as big of an issue. But if you have issues, or sick cows or don’t know feed inventories, it pays pretty fast.”
    The Ahlgrens like their automated feeding system to save time, compared to their traditional TMR mixer on a tractor they used before the new setup.  
    “Feeding used to be a big part of day – mixing before morning and afternoon milking,” Rick said. “It was just one more thing that we needed to find time to do. … Now it’s freed up our schedule with feeding pressure.”
    Consistency is also another reason for choosing this particular system.
    “The cows have small amounts of feed delivered all day and all night,” Rick said. “It has exceeded my expectations on ease of use. Once you learn some of the normal alarms you have to tend to … it’s very good.”