Cutting costs in half

Activity, rumination monitoring saves Hanke Farms over $34,000


SHEBOYGAN FALLS, Wis. — Hanke Farms is getting cows bred back quicker and with the use of fewer drugs since installing the CowManager system for activity and rumination monitoring in February 2022. As a result, the system is saving the farm time and money while improving the health and longevity of the herd.

“We’re spending only half of what we used to on repro drugs, and heifers barely get any now,” said Doug Taylor, herd manager.

Over the last year, the farm saved $34,138, or approximately $36 per cow, in hormone and antibiotic expenses. Far fewer shots are given to cows and heifers due to increased natural heat detection and preventative health treatments.

The Hanke family milks 800 cows and farms 2,200 acres near Sheboygan Falls. Eight family members are involved on the farm: Doug and his wife, Heidi; Heidi’s parents, Jack and Dorene Hanke; Jack’s brother, Jim, and his wife, Bonnie, along with their son, Jason, and their son-in-law, John Anhalt. Nine full-time and about six part-time employees also work on this century farm.

Cows are milked three times a day in a double-12 parlor with a rolling herd average of 33,278 pounds of milk, 3.8% butterfat and 3.06% protein.

“That is the highest we’ve been for production,” Doug said. “We have been climbing and climbing the last 10 years.”

Doug and Heidi credit this increase to changes in management practices, better feed quality and a focus on calf raising with emphasis on the first six months.

The family raises 775 heifers. They have cut back in the last several years but more specifically in the last year and a half due to their use of activity monitoring.

“We have more of our older cows now because they’re getting pregnant sooner, and we find sickness quicker, which has prolonged the life of our cows,” Doug said. “Therefore, we need less replacements.”

The Hankes use fertility and health modules with 100% coverage of cows and breeding-age heifers.

“At first, we were only going to put cows on the system, but I’m glad we did the heifers too,” Doug said. “It’s more than paid off to have it on heifers — that’s where we’ve seen the biggest improvement. We used to give 15 or 20 shots every other week. Now it’s maybe only one.”

Heifers are not on an ovsynch program. They only receive shots if they fail to show a heat or if they are having embryo transfer work done. The use of prostaglandin was reduced by 90%, and CIDR usage in heifers has also dropped considerably. The heifer barn has seen a large reduction in shots and, thus, labor.

“We’re only spending about three hours a day on 600 head,” Heidi said.

Sensors go on at 11 months to start detecting heats before the animals reach breeding age. As long as a heifer is big enough, she will get bred five days prior to her first birthday.

Conception rates are up, with 26 of 29 heifers confirmed pregnant during the last pregnancy check. Previously, 47% of heifer heats were detected in a natural window. Now, that number has risen to 73%. The conception rate for heifers is 50%, and the pregnancy rate is 42%. The pregnancy rate has jumped nearly 8% since installing the activity monitoring system.

Results in cows have also been favorable. The conception rate is 45%, and the pregnancy rate is at 32%. The pregnancy rate for cows has increased by 6% in the last 1.5 years.

All cows go through a double ovsynch program for their first breeding, with shots starting at 43 days in milk. However, if a cow comes into heat early, she is bred starting at 70 days and does not finish the program, saving on three shots.

The farm has noticed a 2% increase in conception rates by catching these early heats. Cows that remain in the ovsynch program are bred at 75 to 80 days. Cows may be bred twice if the system shows they are in heat following that first breeding.

“Semen costs are a little higher because we’re rebreeding a little more, but an extra unit of semen far outweighs the cost of not breeding,” Doug said. “These are cows we wouldn’t see otherwise, and the system is showing us she is still in heat. We won’t let them get past us. I like the comfort of knowing there’s a better chance she’ll get pregnant because we doubled up on semen.”

If cows are open after the first breeding, they enter a single ovsynch program. Before installing the monitoring system, 80% of all rebreeds for cows were timed A.I. That number has dropped to 40% as cows are caught early or caught between the two ovsynch programs. Previously, only 16% were bred to natural heats. Now, the system is catching 60% of natural heats in cows. The farm is picking up an additional 45% of the 21-day repeats and breeding off natural heat so they do not go into the next ovsynch program.

“Our no-breed list is the shortest it’s been in the last 12 years,” Doug said. “We used to have 25 or 30 on it; now we have only 10. Cows are getting pregnant and sticking around. We’ve also changed some of our breeding philosophies and breed more animals to beef.”

Doug said there was a learning curve with the system, especially with picking up subtle heats in older cows.

“Cows in their third lactation or higher wouldn’t show as defined of heat as heifers or younger cows,” he said. “Our rep does a good job of adjusting the settings to pick up more cows. Now, subtle heats seem to settle just as easily as raging heats.”

The system is also picking up nighttime heats.

“There are no people around at night except for two milkers, and from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. is when our older cows are showing heat,” Doug said.

Doug and the family see the benefit of having a larger population of mature cows in the herd.

“Keeping older cows around longer raises our milk average,” Doug said. “It should be a goal to try to keep those cows around as long as you can.”

In addition to helping the farms’ reproductive program, the monitoring system has boosted animal health, especially concerning fresh-cow problems.

“The system catches cows as soon as they go off feed to help prevent a DA,” Doug said. “In the past, DA cows might slip two to three days before you notice. Now, if a cow does get a DA, she is having surgery within 12 hours, and cows recover so much faster. They’re not missing a beat.”

Heidi said they are also catching ketosis and toxic mastitis more quickly.

“It alerts us when they go off feed before there are visual signs in the milk, so we catch mastitis sooner,” Heidi said.

Heidi used to lock up all fresh cows for the first seven to 10 days of their lactation to check them over, but now she only locks up those the system tells her to, cutting her labor in half.

The system has prompted Doug and Heidi to prioritize health and heat detection at the top of their to-do list.

“We check the system first thing in the morning for heats and sick cows,” Heidi said. “Before, we would do other tasks, and then when you’re out and about, you see a cow doesn’t look quite right. Now, we look at cows right away.”

Hanke Farms has seen a long list of benefits from their cow monitoring system in the last two years. The system is delivering results as it pushes the herd in a healthier and more productive and profitable direction.

 “It’s been a good thing for us,” Doug said. “I’m glad we did it.”


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