‘Our farm is leased, and we live 10km away. We wanted something that would give us peace of mind and make our lives easier.’

Jamie Kealy farms near Bengalstown in Co. Carlow. Labour is all family based, with his wife Lorraine, and children Ailbhe and James helping out where they can. They decided to install Censortec CowControl powered by Nedap, to help manage their herd.

The Kealys always placed a big emphasis on fertility, because Jamie fells that a compact calving season allows the herd to maximise their production. As a result of this, the cows have been producing 590/600KG MS over the last number of years. The herd achieved impressive reproduction results as well, generally averaging 93-94pc calved in 6 weeks, and even successfully achieving 100pc calved in 6 weeks one year.

‘We didn’t really look at buying activity monitors to improve our fertility, we were managing that quite well. We put a lot of time into our heat detection, and it had paid off. We used tail paint for the month before breeding and pick out the non-cycling cows based on that. During breeding we used tail paint again, but we spent a lot of time watching cows. Each milking, during the day, and then every evening we came back to the farm to watch them. That last check was what was killing us; I’d be away from the family for an hour or more every night. We have two kids, and I was really missing out on spending time with them.’

Jamie Kealy heat Detection

‘I think having a compact calving season is a massive driver for production. If you can get the cow served quickly and she holds, you’re setting her up right to maximise milk in the next lactation. It’s crucial to the whole system,’ relates Jamie.

‘We wanted to find an easier way to do things so I could spend more time off the farm with the kids,’ he continues. ‘We installed CowControl around Christmas time, and we had that time before calving and breeding to get used to the information it was giving us. We used it in pre-breeding and didn’t bother tail painting. It picked up all the cows that had issues after calving, so they were ready to go by the time breeding started. I made the call to trust the system fully then for breeding and left the tail paint sitting on the shelf!’

Jamie and Lorraine found that by trusting the information from CowControl, they had much more confidence when it came to serving cows and used less AI straws this year as a result.

‘Before we had the data from CowControl, I think we were going in too early with some cows. You’d serve her in the evening, and then doubt yourself, so you’d serve her again in the morning. We were using a good few straws, and of course we had the bull in to clean up as well,’ Jamie reports.

‘This past breeding season, we knew exactly when each cow’s heat started, and CowControl gives us the optimum insemination time, so we were far more confident when it came to inseminating. We definitely used less straws, there was a nice saving there, and going forward we won’t be keeping a stock bull. With the kids around the farm, that’s a massive peace of mind.’

The Kealy’s had their herd scanned in early August and were able to see the full effects that CowControl had on the herd.

‘To be honest, I was expecting that the scanning results wouldn’t have been as good as other years, because we were getting used to the system. But I’m delighted, things are the same as they normally are, and we have 95pc due to calve in the first 6 weeks, and 86pc held to first serve. It’s brilliant that we were able to achieve that without all the labour we used to put into breeding. It’s just totally changed the way we farm.’

‘Because we felt we were managing our fertility well, we looked at the other features that activity monitors had when we started to research them. The fact that Censortec integrated with our Alfco drafting gate was another positive. Lorraine, Ailbhe and James often milk in the evenings, and we wanted to make the process as easy and as safe as possible,’ explains Jamie. ‘I used to find that picking out cows just caused stress on man and beast, and I didn’t want the kids around that.’

The Kealys installed an Alfco drafting gate in 2017, initially with the parlour-based keypad, but they now have the Alfco app which links with CowControl.

‘The gate is brilliant. We were able to pick out cows during milking with the keypad, and now with the app, I can pick them out wherever I am. If I’m changing the fence and Ailbhe is milking, I can have a quick look at the app and pick any cow that needs to be checked over while I’m in the field. When I get back to the yard, she’ll be in the pen waiting for me,’ says Jamie.

Censortec CowControl powered by Nedap integrates with Alfco’s Drafting Gate app. This means that when a farmer selects ‘Start Milking’ on the Alfco app, the data from CowControl synchs, and any cow that is due to be served is automatically drafted as she exits the parlour. Each cow is fitted with a transponder tag, supplied by Cormac Tagging, who work in partnership with Censortec and Alfco.

‘The integration is the best feature of the whole system. It’s seamless, and anyone can use it. Once they press ‘Start Milking’, whatever cow that needs to be served will be outside in the pen. It genuinely hasn’t missed one cow since we installed it, and at this stage, I wouldn’t farm without it.’

Jamie uses the gate a couple times a week, for drafting cows that need attention.

‘We’re only milking 120 cows, and I know some people think at those numbers you don’t need a gate, or that you’ll only use it when you’re serving cows. But without fail, I’m using it two or three times a week outside of breeding. If the hoof trimmer is coming, or I want to lift a cow’s foot, or when the scanner is coming, I can set up the group the night before from the app, and it’ll pick them out for me. It’s brilliant,’ Jamie explains.

‘The partnership between Cormac, Alfco and Censortec is really effective,’ adds Jamie. ‘All three companies understand our grass-based system, and the importance of compact calving. As well, all three companies have really reliable products. I know each part of the system will work consistently.  It’s a great service.’

health heat detection

CowControl’s health monitoring has also been affecting how Jamie manages the herd.

‘We use the health module every day of the year,’ says Jamie. ‘We had a small problem with E. Coli mastitis this year, and CowControl alerted us to the fact that something was wrong before we saw any physical issue. It meant we treated those cows earlier and they recovered fully. Without it, the cow could have lost her quarter, or we could have lost the cow.’

Jamie also had a cow diagnosed with an LDA last winter. CowControl helped him to identify the problem quickly.

‘We had a cow with a health alert one morning last spring; I knew when I looked at her there was something wrong. I got the vet out, and when he checked her she had an LDA. With CowControl, we caught that in the first day, whereas last year we had an LDA we missed for a few days,’ relates Jamie, ‘There’s a massive difference in how quickly the system picks up an issue before we do. We’re finding problems at least 24 hours before we would normally, and we can treat with an anti-inflammatory instead of an antibiotic. At a rough guess I’d say we’ve halved our vet bills because of it.’

‘The peace of mind CowControl gives us, we can’t put a value on that. Because we’re not living on the farm, it’s given us the feeling of having someone with the cows even when we’re not. I look at the screen time on my phone, and I spend the most amount of time on the app! I couldn’t farm without it.’