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Cow monitors reduce stress, extend herdsman’s career

Photos by Fran O'Leary Dairy cows at feeder
KEEPING TRACK: The monitoring system known as Ida tracks six cow behaviors — including eating, ruminating and lying down — from sensors on the cows’ necks.
After two years using the Intelligent Dairy Assistant, this herd is healthier and more productive.

When Mark Mitchell started using Connecterra’s Intelligent Dairy Assistant, known as Ida, he was sure it would be beneficial to the cows and the dairy. However, he didn’t anticipate that he would have less work stress and be able to retire a few years later than expected because his workload had decreased so significantly.

Mitchell is the herdsman at Trim-Bel Valley Dairy, a 600-cow dairy farm near Spring Valley, Wis., owned by Jim, Lanette and Justin Harsdorf. He started working there in 2014 when the family increased their herd size. At the time, the team was using a labor-intensive “cow monitoring system,” and they weren’t happy with it.

A few years later, Mitchell was looking for a new system to increase productivity and cut costs. He researched various herd management systems, but it was a serendipitous visit at World Dairy Expo with Julie Larson, the U.S. sales director for Connecterra, that led Mitchell to Ida. Mitchell had known Larson for years and learned more about Ida and its capabilities.

“I was very intrigued about Ida and how she could help decrease our fertility treatment usage on the farm and detect cows in heat,” Mitchell says. “I trusted Julie, and I could see her vision for further success on our farm.” Mitchell and the Harsdorf family were sold on Ida’s technology, functionality, customer care and the return on investment it would bring. In June 2020, they purchased Ida.

More time

Since then, Mitchell, 62, says he has had less stress thanks to Ida’s 24/7 assistance and insights monitoring. He now has more knowledge about his cows’ health and fertility, increasing his confidence that sick cows are being identified and treated.

Mitchell explains that he likes Ida because it allows you to bring all of your data from the different platforms on a farm to one central location. Doing that allows a farm manager to easily compare and contrast the data on the farm and make more informed decisions based on actual real-time data. Ida also allows a farm manager to set and track goals on the farm. The farm manager can literally set and forget the goals, and Ida will let him or her know when the task on a goal or goal itself is complete, Mitchell says. Ida also will let the person know when the cows or farm waver outside of the set parameters.

“Ida takes farm management to the next level of ease and helps make better knowledge-based decisions for the farm,” he says.

Physically, work is much easier with Ida, he says. There are fewer pens to walk and fewer cows to manually check. Mitchell, who suffered a severe leg injury in a farm accident more than 40 years ago, still experiences some strain when walking a lot. But working with Ida, his job is less physically draining, and he can be even more productive.

“I can’t imagine not having Ida,” Mitchell says. “My work-life balance has improved tremendously, and I’m able to spend more time entering data and thinking of improvements for the dairy herd.”

Ida tracks six cow behaviors — including eating, ruminating and lying down — from sensors on the cows’ necks. For cows in heat, Ida alerts the farm by providing a list of cows to breed and asks questions so it can continue to learn and provide personalized insights to the farm. Ida also provides transparency across the farm so multiple users have real-time updates.

Their AI breeder is happy with the system, and he breeds from Ida’s insemination list, which includes the service sire. For farms that have daily milk weights, Ida integrates those along with cow behavior, health, production, reproduction, the weather, feed and herd composition.

Improved cow health

Ida helps to identify when there is something wrong with a cow based on her behavior.

“Ida is quicker than us to pick up on health issues, and we are able to treat cows before they get very sick,” Mitchell explains. “If there is something wrong, I’m alerted to it via the app, and I can respond quickly — checking in on the cows and deciding on the next course of action. We are now able to treat cows better than before. The results are less stress on the cow, a reduction in antibiotic usage and a large savings in costs, especially on fertility treatment.”

Mark Mitchell, herdsman at Trim-Bel Valley Dairy, at his computer

IMPROVED MANAGEMENT: Mark Mitchell, herdsman at Trim-Bel Valley Dairy near Spring Valley, Wis., says in the past two years, they have reduced their herd’s average number of days open by 16 days, and their culling rate has dropped from 28% to 22%.

Ida alerts when cows are in heat or not cycling, and whether there are suspected abortions. Now the cows are bred more accurately on their natural heat cycles, which leads to greater breeding efficiencies and an improved pregnancy rate. Trim-Bel no longer uses OvSynch on the milking cows. The dairy’s summer pregnancy rate jumped from 19% in 2020 to 25% in 2021, and by fall 2021, the rate had climbed to 29%.

“There is no more guesswork from our side when it comes to breeding,” Mitchell says. “Ida’s heat detection accuracy is really good, which shows in our numbers.”

Mitchell says in the two years since they purchased Ida, they have reduced their herd’s average number of days open by 16 days, and their culling rate has dropped from 28% to 22%.

“With Ida, it’s like having a 24/7 team member,” he says. “This team member also gets better with time as her artificial intelligence keeps adapting as she gets more familiar with the cows based on our feedback and their behavior. I really enjoy farming with her. She keeps getting better and never grows old.”

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