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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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The ins and outs of automated heat detection and health monitoring systems

In this article, CAFRE’s Pamela Gardiner looks at automated heat detection and health monitoring systems.

Automated heat detection and health monitoring systems can help gain control of your livestock.

They utilise information technology to provide you with relevant and timely data on your livestock that is viewable on your smartphone, tablet or computer.

This enables you to make more efficient and effective decisions whilst at home or away from the farm to increase your livestock’s fertility performance, maximise productivity and avoid potential health problems.

Automated heat detection and health monitoring systems can reduce time watching your livestock and act as an early warning system with animal heat and health alerts sent directly to your smartphone.

When you use systems in conjunction with segregation gates, you can automatically segregate cows in heat for AI or treatment at milking time, which saves on handling and labour costs.

The technology

Automated heat detection and health monitoring systems generally use an electronic neck collar, ear tag or pedometer on the animal.

The collar, tag or pedometer constantly measures activity and behavioural patterns associated with fertility status and rumen function to determine when:

  • Livestock are in heat;
  • Showing irregular heat patterns;
  • Provide early warnings of ill-health or distress.

Most systems will have a controller/antennae which continuously collects and processes the data from the collars, tags or pedometers before transmitting it via the internet to the system’s app on your device.

The app will normally present the information in graphical and tabular format to ensure the data collected is easy to understand.

It will also alert you to any heat events or potential health issues. Some apps allow you to log events such as inseminations and medical treatments.

Some are compatible with third-party farm management software packages, which helps you to view and manage all your farm data in one place.

CAFRE’s experience

CAFRE has deployed various automated heat detection and health monitoring systems over the years.

Within the dairy centre, the automated parlour ID has an associated pedometer function, which you can view on the parlour computer after every milking, and we have used it as a heat detection aid.

However, this system only downloads at milking and, therefore, does not give 24/7 live monitoring of cow activity.

We have used detection collars, mainly on maiden heifers, to monitor for heats, and they do seem to work well.

We have utilised sensors within the dairy herd to monitor:

  • Heats;
  • Eating times;
  • Ruminating times;
  • Point of calving activity.

The current system we use not only monitors heats, but also lying times, lameness and locomotion.

In our experience, automated heat detection and health monitoring systems do greatly aid herd management, particularly where labour shortages are an issue, and provide you with the ability to monitor various parameters 24/7 remotely via the internet.

However, you should note that irrespective of the system employed, you should use these systems as a management aid and should not replace good stockmanship.

What to consider

If you are thinking about implementing an automated heat detection and health monitoring system, consider the following:

  • Are there limitations on your farm – do you have good data connectivity to ensure data collected can be transferred and retrieved by you in a seamless and timely manner?
  • What number and type of activity monitors are required – pedometers, tags or collars?
  • What is the battery life/backup procedure when a battery is dead?
  • Accessing data – is it via an app on any device and accessible by multiple users if you require? Is it compatible with an existing farm software package you may have?
  • What issues are you hoping to resolve by investing in the system?
  • Data presentation – is it simple, timely and in a user-friendly format?
  • What support package does the supplier offer?

Other articles on That’s Farming:

‘Farmers – those with fewer than 80 cows – benefit more from hiring labour’

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