Dairy farmer, Steve Middleton believes smaXtec boluses are less hassle than other automated heat detection systems and have the potential to maximise fertility in his block calving herd.
Having been put off collar based automated heat detection systems due to high labour requirements and costs from replacing broken collars, Steve was keen to trial the new bolus system.
Rather than being reliant on cow neck or legs straps, which can be knocked and damaged, the smaXtec bolus sits in the rumen and automatically monitors activity and temperature. Alerts are then sent to a smartphone or tablet, allowing oestrus, health problems or the on-set of calving to be identified and managed accordingly.
In April this year, Steve decided to trial the smaXtec heat detection boluses in 20 cows, under the guidance of his vet Tony O’Loughlin from Molecare Farm Vets and Victor Ogedegbe from MoleTech Services. At the same time, he continued to use oestrus detection scratch cards on all cows.
Not only did the information from the boluses correlate with that seen on the scratch cards, but the reduced labour requirements and ease of use of the boluses were marked.
Steve explains: “It’s a one off application. You don’t have to do it again, so there’s no changing collars or putting stickers on backs every 21 days – anything to make life easier and improve detection rates. With block calving systems, heat detection rate, conception rate and fertility is key, so anything to pick up heat will help achieve what we want to achieve.”
Steve farms 240 predominantly Holstein cows at Higher Mallocks Farm, Woodbury, Exeter. About four-five years ago, he decided to switch from all year round to autumn block calving using the existing herd. He now runs 160 autumn block calvers and 80 spring calvers with the aim to eventually move to a complete autumn block. Cows yield 8,000 litres a cow a year at 3.9% fat and 3.2% protein. Steve says the fact smaXtec data is automatically sent to his smartphone makes it quick and easy to identify cows in need of attention.
He explains: “The information is very easy to use. Having it in your pocket (on a phone app) alerts you all the time so you don’t have to physically go to the computer.” As well as trialling the heat detection boluses, Steve also chose to use the smaXtec pH boluses, which regularly monitor rumen pH and sends alerts if extreme fluctuations occur. Steve adds: “It gives a general idea of what is happening in the yard and feed and water efficiency.”
He believes this kind of system can act as an “early warning sign” before problems escalate. For example, if silage clamps are changed or diets altered, pH fluctuations can pick up issues early so steps can be put in place to limit or prevent any detrimental impact on yields. The herd at Higher Mallocks Farm receives a partial TMR including two thirds grass silage and one third maize plus a blend and some fats. Cows are then fed to yield through the parlour up to nine kg a day – although this will be cut to seven kg this winter and more will be fed through the TMR. Although rumen acidosis is not an issue on this system, Steve says the pH boluses could have a role to play if yields are increased.
He adds: “We may push to 9,000 litres in the next year or two, so when trying to go down that route, the pH boluses may be a useful tool.” As part of the smaXtec service, users also receive a herd specifi c management report via MoleTech Services. This analyses the data patterns and can be used as a discussion point for management decisions. Steve says this provides a useful tool to see what trends are occurring on farm, which could be particularly useful for herds without herd management software.
Overall, he is persuaded as to the benefits of this type of technology on farm. “I’m convinced they work – no doubt about that. It’s defi nitely been an eye opener on the technology available and the role it can playing improving business performance,” he says.