Ensuring good AI success rates and a smooth calving are essential considering these animals are producing valuable replacements and need to calve within a tight block. However, with organic rules disallowing the use of hormonal synchronisation, Richard must do all he can to ensure heats are picked up and cows served promptly.
With Kamars (external pressure sensitive devises) proving “inadequately reliable” in the detection of standing heats, coupled with a natural thirst to embrace new technologies, he was keen to try a new approach.
Subsequently, after reading about smaXtec smart boluses in the Mole Valley Farmers newsletter, he decided to trial six boluses in his “precious” South Devons. So impressed was he by the heat detection, that for the 2017/18 season, he has bought a further six.
“The detection for AI has been brilliant. As a farmer and scientist, it’s a huge step forward. For an organic farmer, it’s changed out of all recognition our success with AI. In an organic system where you can’t use synchronisation, I would not be without it. Kamars are better than nothing, but in my view, nothing is as accurate as smaXtec.”
smaXtec smart boluses sit in reticulum of the cow and automatically record body temperature and activity. The information is automatically downloaded from the boluses when a cow passes by the smaXtec base station. Richard will then get an alert if any parameters vary from the norm. For example, increased activity gives an indication a cow is in heat, whilst a temperature increase may be a sign of ill health. Temperature also decreases prior to calving.
Richard runs 125, spring calving suckler cows at East Hill Farm on the Salisbury Plains, near Warminster, with wife Gilly and daughter Frankie. Three quarters of the herd are Aberdeen Angus cross South Devon cows which are served to an Aberdeen Angus bull. Calves from these animals have traditionally been sold as stores, however this year some will be finished. Twelve cows are pure South Devon and it’s these that have the smaXtec boluses and are AI’d to South Devon to produce replacements.
The South Devons will be brought down from the Salisbury plains at the end of May for AI’ing. Cows will be kept in a field next to a wood chip coral with handling facility.
Richard has set up the smaXtec base station on a pole in the field, which is connected to the internet. Two repeater units have also been added to increase the range over which information can be picked up and automatically downloaded from the boluses.
As soon as the smaXtec system picks up an increase in cow activity, an email alert will be sent directly to Richard’s phone, meaning he can be anywhere and immediately know if a cow needs serving.
He explains: “My daughter is the techy one. She will get the email alert on her phone, literally anywhere, anytime. She will then call the AIexpert who will come the next day.”
Feedback from the AI technician has highlighted the accuracy of the bolus system in picking up heats, compared to the Kamars which were always a little more “hit and miss”.
This year, the plan is to also use the system to detect an imminent calving. The South Devons are brought down from the plains around the 21st February, prior to calving – although this year, this was delayed by the snow. A smaXtec base station has been put up a telegraph pole in a field and attached to a battery, with the station working off a mobile phone signal.
“I feed cattle under the pole so there’s a daily update and they like rubbing the pole too so we get a lot of data downloaded,” adds Richard.
He believes the extra calving alerts will be valuable considering the location of the fields and the fact they can’t be with cows 24:7.
Richard adds: “they are precious. No one wants to lose a calf, let alone a South Devon cow. Plus this year, we’re using sexed semen, which makes sense for our requirements, but obviously costs relatively more.”
He is also impressed with the “comprehensive” back up provided by the MoleTech team and is convinced that the internal system offers greater precision and is less open to being lost or damaged compared to a pedometer or collar based system.