Calving Alert Improves Care of Cow & Calf

New technology not only allows extra supervision at calving time, but also makes sure either fresh or frozen colostrum is delivered in the first two hours of life. Two herds give a very positive report on using the latest calving alert technology. 

Bill Williams at Meadow Lea Farm has 400-500 head of youngstock and 110 cows milked through a robot system at Mickle Trafford in Cheshire. The youngstock come from two sources, his own calves, plus some from his partner and son in law, Andy Walley at Cotton Abbotts Farm. In total they have around 300 animals to calve down from both farms which are the responsibility of the youngstock team: Bill, together with his other son in law Chris Thompson and Andy.

The Vel’phone calving Alert system was introduced around 18 months ago as part of a plan to improve care of the fresh cow and calf. Being on site at every calving would not only allow calving to be supervised, but also the colostrum

could be dealt with quickly. There has been an unexpected benefit, as Bill says ‘One real plus, has been mastitis monitoring. As the temperature bolus picks up a rise and fall in temperature it will identify heifers with mastitis, and these can be treated before it becomes a major problem.’

The farm is equipped with self locking yokes, so in-calf heifers are easy to catch and the temperature probes known as ‘spiders’ are inserted about two weeks before calving. The ‘spiders’ soak in a bucket of Hibiscrub disinfectant. Hygiene is very important, so spiders are washed well after use, then soaked in disinfectant before reusing. They are made from plastic, so get warmed up before inserting with lubricant gel. As cow calves, the water bag pushes the temperature probe out, and as it falls to the floor the probe sends a text to the mobile phone .There are two alarms, one for ‘possible calving’ and one for ‘imminent calving’. Whoever is on duty that night receives a text and arrives to see the cow or heifer about to calve. The job is split between three staff on a three week rota, so only one person has disturbed sleep every three weeks.

If all goes according to plan they calve soon after staff arrive at the yard. Bill says ‘the system is very reliable, we don’t use the ‘time delay ‘on the system, we just sit and wait for up to half an hour and watch, so as not to disturb the heifer, its 100% reliable. ‘We calve the heifer in the yard then put her straight into the robot, collect colostrum, and drench the calf with 4 litres. If she is slow to get up, it allows us time to thaw out a bag of frozen colostrum in our thawing machine’.

Calves are kept on colostrum for three feeds then kept in a single pen until they learn to suck a teat. When training is complete they are transferred onto one of the three Holm & Laue computerised machines, where they are fed 900g/head of milk powder/day. In the last 18 months calf health and growth rates have improved significantly.

Bill says apart from seeing the heifer calve, the three additional benefits have been,’ getting our sleep, detecting mastitis, and the speed of colostrum collection’.

It’s a similar story at Shordley Hall Farm, Hope nr Wrexham, where Richard Pilkington farms 250 dairy cows, heifers and a flock of breeding ewes. Two years ago Richard Pilkington decided to invest in Vel’phone Calving Alert technology. This saves on the time spent checking the dry cow yard, day and night.

The system works with radio waves from a central control box, and with 350 calvings per year, 7 temperature probes are sufficient to monitor every cow calving, on an all year round basis.

Richard inserts the probes a week before the predicted date and waits for a signal to be sent to his phone. A rise and fall in temperature sends a ‘48hr alert’, and when she starts pushing out the water bag, the probe sends a final ‘text alert’. Most cows calve within an hour of this final alert.

Richard sets a ‘time delay’ for night time calvings and says ‘it’s a reliable system, 99% of the time the cow is at the point of calving as I come into the shed’. Somebody is always on hand if the cow is having difficulty, and we can attend to the cow, the calf and colostrum at the same time.

Written by Gill Dickson – Wynnstay National Calf Specialist
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