A Swedish-Danish joint venture has
developed a milking system that
can diagnose the health of cows on
a daily basis - a solution modern farmers can use to keep a close
eye on their entire herds.
It could easily be a teaser question for a new farmyard game but it is not. This is reality for today’s modern farmer with a large herd of dairy cows. For each day the cows are milked, the farmer has to make sure that each of his animals provides the optimised yield of the highest quality.
But gazing out over his large dairy herd, the farmer faces a problem. How can he tell which cows are in heat? Which animals are suffering from mastitis, which in turn affects the quality of the milk? Or which animals are in poor nutritional condition?
In bygone days when the farmer patted all of his cows at least twice a day and the milkmaid milked the cow with her bare hands, it was possible to use personal experience to detect which cows were in need of attention or were suffering from mastitis. But those days are well and truly gone from modern
dairy farming. Since 1997 the farmer and the milkmaid have gradually been replaced by milk robots.
This gives the farmer and his farmhands more time to enjoy morning and afternoon coffee, for example, or prioritise other works tasks. But the efficiency of the milk robot comes at a high price because it means that the farmer has less direct contact with his animals and less of a sense of how each cow in the herd is doing.
Which brings us back to the original question: Which cows need attention?
That is where Lattec, the joint venture company mentioned earlier comes in. Established by the Swedish company DeLaval and the Danish company FOSS, Lattec has developed the Herd Navigator. This advanced milk analysing tool, used in combination with the DeLaval milking robot gives farmers better information about the cows in their herd.
The system monitors the health of each individual cow as it is being milked. “When the milk robot milks the cow, it sends a tiny sample of milk through a series of tubes into an automated mini laboratory. Here, the sample is analysed using as many as four parameters, which diagnose the health of each individual animal on a daily basis,” says Lars Bergmann, CEO at Lattec.
More precisely, the system can provide a clear picture of the state of each individual cow in the herd in terms of heat, mastitis and nutritional condition.
For example, using various measuring probes, the mini lab carried by the system can detect where a given animal is in its 21-day reproductive cycle or whether the cow has budding mastitis, a condition that will affect the quality of the milk unless treated. In the above examples, the measuring probes analyse the level of the hormone progesterone and the enzyme lactate dehydrogenase.
The whole system is actually changing the farmers perspective from a reactive to a proactive approach which, among other things, results in decreased usage
of antibiotics and prevents cows from getting sick.
“In this way the farmer can see whether the cow is pregnant, whether it has miscarried, whether it is ovulating or whether it is on the way to developing mastitis, enabling the farmer to make a speedy, qualified decision. For example, whether cow number 1407 is ready to be inseminated so that it can produce quality milk in future - and whether cow number 1544 needs care to prevent mastitis so that it doesn’t have to be taken out of production,” says Lars Bergmann.
The benefits of using the system in milk production have been well documented. It improves animal welfare, lowers the environmental imprint, reduces fodder consumption, increases milk yields and improves milk quality. Not to mention the fact that it frees the farmer to get on with other jobs around the farm - or to enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee.
Lattec currently have a contract for about 6,600 cows using their new system, which is protected by a long list of patents.