Ear tag sensor-based feed program field tested on Canadian dairy

Field tests for a new ear tag sensor-based production efficiency program called Smart Dairy took place on a dairy farm near Picture Butte, AB. (Dairy producer Alex Huisman (left) with Eldon Petherick, Canadian dairy business manager for Alltech; photo courtesy Alltech)

Production efficiency is said to be one of the biggest limiting factors in dairy production.

So to that end, for the past six months, animal nutrition and health company Alltech has been researching and developing a new production efficiency program called Smart Dairy. It combines nutrigenomics (the study of how nutrition affects gene expression) and advanced sensor technology.

Alex Huisman and his family’s 150-cow Juno Dairy farm near Picture Butte, AB, helped field test the program. Last week, Smart Dairy was launched along with nine other agricultural technologies at ONE18 – The Alltech Ideas Conference at Lexington, Kentucky.

Here’s how the sensor-based platform works.

On the farm, a Smart Dairy consultant conducts an audit to identify possible efficiency bottlenecks and ways to improve. That leads to a customized recommendation incorporating nutrition. The animals are also tagged with ear tag sensors made by Austrian company Smartbow to monitor and collect data on feeding and animal activity. Smart Dairy also includes an interactive, mobile dashboard with benchmarking and predictive health alerts on rumination levels, mastitis, and ketosis.

Huisman says he was skeptical about getting accurate activity data from an ear tag. “But activity data picked up some cows after two to three days,” he says. “I have seen cows jumping in the barn and so I checked the computer, and the sensors had already picked up the activity.”

His observations during rumination were similar. “Again, I was not expecting to get accurate data on rumination from an ear tag, but it gave me some alerts only a couple of days after putting the ear tags in.”

Based on tests with Huisman, Stuart McGregor, Calgary-based general manager of Alltech Canada and leader of the Smart Dairy initiative, believes the program can increase efficiency by up to 20 percent and boost farm revenue about $45,000 on a farm the size of Juno Dairy, or $150,000 on a 500-head dairy operation.

McGregor hopes the latter figures resonate with U.S. farmers and their larger herds. His goal is to have Smart Dairy active on a dozen farms this year, with the majority in the U.S.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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