ANALYSIS - An English cattleman has taken the guesswork out of spotting cows on heat by investing in a solar-powered, computerised heat detection system.
Although a considerable up-front investment, farmer Mike Powley of Elm House Reds near Green Hammerton, York is seeing the benefits already.
He is able to closely monitor his spring-calving South Devon cross Limousine herd of around 100 by reading messages provided by the alert system in the device.
“As a cow’s activity increases and she comes bulling, the system produces a line on the line graph, showing a change in heat,” explained Mr Powley at a recent Royal Agricultural Society of England Beef Technology Seminar.
“It ticks away like clockwork and downloads information from neck tags on the cows hourly.”
Mounted on a four ton trailer, the system is mobile and can follow the herd through the pasture rotation. When combined with the milk progesterone test, it works ‘really well’.
Mr Powley told fellow farmers that the benefits include fast identification of a non-cycling cow, allowing the veterinarian to be called out sooner.
Furthermore, he can spot cows which could previously dip under his radar.
“If a cow is bulling through the night, these are the ones you typically miss,” said Mr Powley.
“Every year I would have a couple of cows never seen exhibiting bulling behaviour but we would see them in calf.”
The current system is the result of a trial and error period. At one stage readers were placed on water troughs, which took time to be moved at each rotation and became dangerous on a wet day.
The size of the solar panel also required adjustment, primarily trying one small panel which switched off at night to extending it with two bigger panels that now power the system sufficiently.
Veterinarian Dan King of Bishopton Vets - who works with the Elm House herd - underlined the geography of the farm as a major challenge.
He told the seminar that the farm’s position near a Royal Airforce base scrambled the readings in some outlying fields on the farm.
Importantly, Mr Powley told TheBeefSite that the system, while expensive, pays for itself.
“The box and antennae cost £3,200 and the electric collars retail for around £80 each and the solar panels cost £400. However, job lot type deals and funding can be available.”
“Missing a cow reach heat at a cost of £3.50 each day saves nearly £75 over a 21 day cycle,” added Mr Powley. “This already pays for a collar.”
Top image via Shutterstock