Typically, the implementation of an animal monitoring system will help reduce involuntary culling by over 50%. Knowing an individual cow’s status through the measurement and tracking of behaviors and changes of behaviors is the key to decision making flexibility.
Culling is defined as the departure of cows from the herd due to sale, slaughter, or death. Traditionally, culling has been classified as voluntary or involuntary.
Involuntary culling implies that cows were culled due to disease, injury, infertility or death.
Low-producing cows or surplus cows are examples of voluntary culling. The farmer has complete freedom of choice over which healthy cows are removed from the herd.
A USDA Dairy 2014 study indicates an average of 4.8% of their cows died on site that year. At an approximate replacement cost of $2,000, this translates to an average loss of about $10,000 per every 100 cows annually.
1. The most obvious way an animal monitoring system helps in reducing involuntary culling is through better health care. It gives a farmer the ability to identify sick cows before they would have been found by visual and or physical inspection. Early detection combined with early intervention usually prevents the illness from worsening. Many cows that would have gone beyond the “point of no return” don’t get there.
2. Another way involuntary culling is reduced is through the prevention of unexpected on-farm death of cows by finding cows whose behavior drastically changes (a case of hemorrhagic bowel syndrome, for example). A cow can go from health to death within a few hours. A drastic decline in rumination time over a predetermined period will alert of a severely distressed cow. This enables quick intervention or, in some cases, the decision to sell a cow before her condition further declines.
Rumination graph of a cow with Hemorrhagic Bowel Syndrome.
3. An advanced-user approach to reducing involuntary culling is through improved evaluation of a cow’s response to veterinary treatment. A severe drop in rumination results in a fluid or supportive treatment. A positive response to fluid treatments would allow the initiation of antibiotic treatments. However, no response to fluid treatments would lead to a culling decision. Of course, this approach should only be implemented after gaining an understanding of rumination patterns following effective and/or ineffective treatments. Cows that don’t respond to treatments are culled before more aggressive treatments are initiated, which limit the sale of the cow.
4. Lastly, a cow that had issues transitioning, is not cycling, and is in the bottom half of the herd in milk production provides us with the opportunity to put a DNB status on her early in the lactation. The process is to take away all interaction with this cow until the cow falls to an unprofitable production level and is culled. This voluntary cull (or DNB decision) is much more profitable than enrolling her in synchronization protocols, breeding the cow multiple times, and then putting a DNB status on her.
The ability to sell a cow before she gets to the point of no return transforms the dynamics and economics of the farm. Real-time information changes the time frame of identifying cows that need management attention and promotes more flexibility in making decisions.