While there’s no replacement for good old-fashioned stockmanship, in modern livestock farming technology is becoming increasingly important. So what could today’s dairy and beef farmers gain from deploying a high-tech but easy-to-use bolus system?
For experienced livestock handlers, administering a medicinal or nutritional bolus (a kind of very large, slow-release pill) might be all in a day’s work. Administering a 7-inch-long medical-grade plastic capsule containing a battery, an accelerometer and a thermometer? Maybe not quite so everyday. But with smaXtec Inside Technology, it could become so.
The smaXtec system lets farmers (quite literally) know their cattle inside out. Using a special applicator, the bolus is painlessly inserted down a cow’s throat into the reticulum (the first chamber of the digestive system). It’s weighted to ensure it stays in place and once it’s in there, the animal’s none the wiser. Waking every 10 minutes, the unseen device gets to work gathering information about the cow’s temperature, activity and behaviour.
This info whizzes over to a base station and onwards to smaXtec’s powerful cloud-based server. When data’s received, it’s computer-analysed and logged before info alerts about individual cows are sent directly to the farmer’s mobile. Because farmers have better things to be doing than analysing data, the alerts are brief, clear and specific, and can be accessed anywhere and at any time via a user-friendly smart-phone app.
Good To Know
You might be thinking so far, so sci-fi, but what can be done with all this information? That’s where things start to get very clever indeed. The smaXtec bolus is a monitoring device, intended to give farmers the data they need to make decisions about each individual animal in the herd. Just by measuring temperature and activity, it tells the farmer:
-when a cow is in heat and ready for insemination
-when a cow is about to calf (with a 6- to 15-hour window)
-when a cow has an abnormally high or low temperature
-when the external climate is excessively hot
-when the animal is unusually inactive
-when, how much and how efficiently the cow is drinking
This information, gathered from inside the animal, would be very hard (and time-consuming) to gather otherwise. Especially as most of the temperature fluctuations would be invisible from the outside. Armed with the valuable data relayed by the bolus, the farmer could:
-have the cow inseminated within her fertility window, improving conception rates within the herd
-attend to in-labour cows promptly, reducing calf and cow losses
-diagnose feverish illnesses such as mastitis (udder inflammation) earlier, reducing antibiotic use
-diagnose low-temperature illnesses such as milk fever (caused by calcium deficiency) or metabolic illnesses such as ketosis (when energy demands outstrip energy intake)
-manage the external temperature (in sheds or parlours) to avert heat stress
-discover and manage lameness before it becomes acute
-manage the availability and cleanliness of drinking water to avoid milking animals becoming dehydrated; administering fluid drenches if necessary
Putting Theory Into Practice
The bolus system is mainly used as a management tool on busy dairy farms. Here farmers are in close, daily contact with their animals, maintaining high standards of welfare and looking out for common complaints (including lameness and mastitis) that can put a dent in productivity. Being able to tackle problems early improves the wellbeing of cows, uplifts efficiency and reduces medication use.
smaXtec boluses also work for ‘suckler’ herds, where animals are reared for beef and are less closely observed than their dairy counterparts. This type of herd may be part of a larger, diversified farming business or a part-time farmer might run it. So being able to keep an eye on animals when they’re out in the fields is a godsend. Knowing exactly when cows can be inseminated and when calves are on their way means valuable time can be used effectively.
For block-calving operations (where all cows in a herd give birth around the same time) bolus alerts mean labouring cows can be promptly attended to. They can also confirm that no births are imminent, saving wasted trips to the shed and maybe permitting exhausted farmers an occasional night of unbroken sleep at this hectic time.
Bolus Benefits In A Nutshell
-minimised time between calving and next conception date (known as the ‘calving index’)
-lower birth complications and better calf survival rates
-reduced antibiotic usage
-more efficient time management
Bolus Quick Facts
-the battery in each bolus lasts 5 years
-an animal can have three to four boluses in its life
-replacement boluses can be bought individually
-the system has operated in the UK for three years and in Holland for 12 years, so data reliability has been tested
-average return on investment for a farming business is 12 months
Other Moletec Solutions
HerdInsights: a multi-metric collar that delivers reproductive data by monitoring a cow’s temperature and behaviour – identifying sniffing and mounting (‘bulling’). It also monitors rumination, activity and resting times to indicate potential health issues. Collars send info to a cloud-based server and alerts are received by phone. Conveniently, collars can be moved from cow to cow, reducing costs.
Moocall: as a cow goes into labour, her contractions cause her tail to move up and to the side. The Moocall device is attached to the tail to monitor these movements, alerting the farmer by phone when activity is raised and birth will happen within an hour. Again, monitors can be moved from cow to cow.
For more information on Moletec solutions, contact Helen Hollingsworth or John Dallyn on 01769 576201.