One year after installing new activity monitors and artificial intelligence (AI) monitoring, Rusk Rose Holsteins is already seeing benefits from their new system.
Dairyman Evan Hillan says within the last six months the dairy has seen reduced use of timed A.I., fewer open days and lower culling and mortality rates. The dairy has also increased pregnancy rates and pounds of energy-corrected milk. The results are the effects of his farm implementing activity monitoring and AI from a new entrant into the U.S. market – Connecterra.
“We’ve been really happy with it,” Hillan says.
Results from activity monitoring and artificial intelligence use on Rusk Rose Holsteins in Ladysmith, Wisconsin
increase in preg rate
reduction in timed A.I. use
cut in avg. days open
reduction in cull rate
cut in mortality rate
increase in ECM
The activity monitors were implemented on Hillan’s dairy in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, last summer. For a month, they just collected data before the system was even “switched on.” Hillan says the first two weeks of activity monitoring once the system went live were the hardest part of the implementation.
“The first 10 days, it was kind of nerve-racking. There were a lot of false-positive alerts,” Hillan recalls.
However, the dairy responded to every alert during this time period and sent feedback on what they were seeing to help train the artificial intelligence what to watch for in the future. After two weeks, Hillan says it was “like someone flipped a switch.”
“At that point, it really understood what our herd was doing,” Hillan says. “Since then it’s been really, really accurate. It’s been smooth sailing ever since.”
Hillan’s herdswoman checks on the alerts that the activity monitors and the AI (known as Ida) produce for Hillan’s herd of 500 cows. There are five to six alerts daily. He figures they have about 1.5 employees managing cow care on the farm, including his mother who will check on cows in need of attention. That amount of labor with the new monitoring system is about right. If the farm had more cows, and more alerts, Hillan thinks they would probably need to add some additional labor to respond to cow needs.
Hillan says the system helped to onboard their current herdswoman. She joined the farm six months ago. Hillan says she embraced it and “dove right in” and within a few days was “on her feet and running.”
“Ida was a great tool for her to use – to flag stuff for her that she might have missed,” Hillan says. “She got to learn what to look for not only from myself and my mom but also from Ida. We were able to get her on her feet quicker than if we would have just done traditional employee herd training.”
The farm’s nutritionist Caleb Burch of GPS Dairy is also using the software’s enterprise software to track ration changes and their effect on production. He watches daily milk production, dry matter intakes, rumination, eating time and monthly milk test results within the software’s dashboard a couple times a week.
“It saves us a lot of time. On most farms you have to go to a bunch of different websites to find all that information. This allows us to monitor that information more closely. The dashboard is really easy to use. It’s very clear what you're looking at.”
Caleb Burch, GPS Dairy
He says the farm was able to pinpoint the cause of a recent string of displaced abomasums (DAs) using the system.
“They don’t get many DAs, but we were able to see that rumination did drop for those cows,” Burch says. “It was helpful to understand that the cause was probably a bag of haylage that they were feeding from.”
Nutritionists often brace for milk production or health changes when farms switch feed sources or piles. Burch says he hasn’t seen that in the monitoring results at Rusk Rose Holsteins, but he believes that’s more of a testament to the farm’s management than the fact that it doesn’t happen or that the system isn’t catching it.
“I do believe if they weren't on top of their management as much then I think we would see the effect of feed changes in the system,” Burch says.
As the farm continues to use the new system, Hillan believes it will lead to the farm having older, healthier cows in their herd.
“It doesn’t stop us from having health issues, but it help us catch them sooner and do something about it, and be more proactive. The system helps us intervene sooner with a sick cow instead of waiting for clinical signs to appear.”
Burch and Hillan both say the system saves labor and makes it more efficiently applied on the farm.
“I think Evan and his farm have done an excellent job adapting this new technology. They do a good job with everything. So when I heard they were going to install the technology, I knew that it was a decision that was well thought out. I can tell they have made a really good decision with this technology install.”