Activity collars prove their worth at Ludlow Hills

Activity collars prove their worth at Ludlow Hills
Chad and Jan Winke run a System Five Farm at Ludlow Hills near Matamata. The farm includes three herd shelters and the herd is fitted with activity collars to record their movements.

Ludlow Hills farm is 215 effective hectares out of 240 hectares of rolling hills in Walton between Matamata and Morrinsville.
Chad and Jan Winke have been sharemilking there for six years and now hold a 20% interest in the 800 strong herd. They run a System Five farm which includes three herd homes for the cows which they use extensively all year round.
“They go in there before milking every day for a feed and in the winter time if it’s wet they spend more time in there so they’re not damaging paddocks.
“In the summer time they come in through the hot part of the day and lounge in there in the shade and eat silage and drink water and take it easy,” Chad says with a laugh.
The Winkes mate their cows three times a year to calve in July/August, November/December and March/April.
Until this year what that meant for Chad was around 20 weeks spending three hours a day at the cowshed watching the cows coming in and drafting out the ones that were ready to be mated.
With the prospect of buying the rest of the herd in the coming year came the decision to invest the time and money needed to outfit the herd with the activity collars Cow Scouts from GEA. Inside each collar is an accelerometer which records all the movements the cow makes.
So instead of Chad having to look for the telltale signs that the cow’s been mounted the accelerometer records the still periods typical of a cow in heat.
An antenna near the shed picks up the data when the cows are within 500 metres of it and transmits it all back to a processing unit back in the shed. “That’s where the smarts of the system come in,” says Jan.
“It has all the software to crunch the numbers and then it puts out easy to read reports and graphs and generates a list of cows for us to select off using the numbers on their collars.”
This was one of a combination of reasons why they made the move. “We were moving away from bulls and using all AB,” explains Jan.
“We wanted to avoid that risk of bringing in a bull from another farm that might have been exposed to M Bovis or some other disease, and having the added certainty of knowing the cows are ready helps make that cost-effective.”
The activity collars offer various features to choose from. Although the Winkes turned down the option to monitor rumination they ticked the box for measuring how much time the cows spend eating.
Although it becomes obvious to all when a cow has stopped eating for long enough to lose weight and look sick, the activity collars pick up the change of pattern a lot earlier explains Jan.
“So if a cow stops eating for 12 hours consistently we get an email so we know that somebody needs to go and check her for possibly being sick.”
As Chad says, “whether it’s mastitis or a sore foot we can catch them right at the beginning and pro-actively care for the cow before she’s quite ill and loses condition. It’s better for the cow and we end up with a positive economic result from it as well because she stays healthy and happy and doesn’t back up on production and is more likely to give us a calf.”
They’re only one season in but according to Chad the activity collars are already proving their worth.
“I’ve been doing it for 25 years but the machine’s doing a better job than I did of identifying cows that are actually on heat and we’ve had a better six week in-calf rate and a better conception rate than we’ve had any other year since we’ve been here.”
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