Milking 345 cows in two blocks near Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, and working a part time job means that Liam Roche isn’t a man with a lot of time on his hands. That was part of the reason why he chose to install Nedap Censortec CowControl.

‘With the two herds in separate blocks, I wanted to make things as simple as possible. I’m away working a few days every week as well. I have great staff, and in a good year I like to do something to make everyone’s life easier. In 2020, we put in a calf feeder, and in October 2021, I decided to install CowControl’ says Liam.

As soon as the system was installed, Liam saw the benefits. ‘We put the collars on the cows in batches as we dried them off. The first 40 cows were dried off, had their collars put on, and we put them into a pen with 120 cubicles in it and gave them a bit of silage,’ Liam explained. ‘The following day, two cows flagged up as urgent health alerts. We looked at them and thought they weren’t too bad, but we said we’d better get the vet. CowControl was telling us they had stopped ruminating. The vet diagnosed them with pneumonia, he treated them, and they recovered quickly. By 7.30 that evening they were back ruminating. When we got a third case at the start of December, we realised we had a bigger problem. Our vet advised us to bring forward our IBR vaccine by a month, and we’ve had no trouble since. We wouldn’t have seen the problem without CowControl,’ Liam says.

Heat detection collar on cow

When Liam started researching activity monitors, CowControl was recommended to him by several farmers. That gave him the confidence to install the system. ‘The biggest thing we underestimated when we installed CowControl was the health monitoring side of it. The rumination info is one of the first things the vet asks us for now. If we see a cow flag up during the day, we’ll check her for mastitis that evening, it can pick it up quicker than we’d see it visually.’

The farm’s vet bills have reduced since installing Nedap Censortec CowControl because less antibiotics are used. ‘With CowControl, we’re identifying issues sooner and treating them before they develop into a problem that requires antibiotics,’ explains Liam.

Liam has expanded the herd in the last number of years. He was milking 225 cows and using zero grazed grass to feed the herd. A neighbour, milking 160 cows, had decided to retire, so Liam took on that farm, and milks 180 cows there, keeping 165 cows at home. ‘There’s a very modern parlour at the out farm, but the sheds needed upgrading, so we decided to improve the facilities at the home farm to allow the entire herd to calve down there,’ says Liam. In 2020, Liam built a new calf house and increased cubicle space. He aims to move a portion of the herd to the outside farm by mid-March each year.

‘In our system, I don’t like to turn the cows out too early. I don’t think the profitability for the year depends on the cows getting a bite of grass in early February. We like to calve everything down and get them settled, and then split the herd and turn them out. It’s easier on man and beast,’ Liam explained.

Nedap Censortec CowControl is a reliable, established system. With over 500 systems installed in Ireland, it is the activity monitoring system of choice for many farmers. Backed up by globally used technology, it’s a world-wide leader in heat detection and health monitoring. In the 2022 Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena Awards at the National Ploughing Championships, Censortec and Alfco won the Smart Farming Award for the integration between their two products. It provides a seamless transfer of information from the Censortec CowControl system to the Alfco drafting gate app.

Liam is a big fan of his Alfco drafting gate. ‘I bought the gate before we installed CowControl. I was so impressed with it I bought a second one for the out farm. It never misses a cow, and it’s made life far easier. It’s a stress-free way of picking out cows. If I want to pick out 19 cows for the vet, there’ll be 19 cows standing in the yard, not 20!’ he laughs.

Before installing the Alfco gate, Liam used to make a list of cows to be dried off. These cows would be marked the evening before, and the following morning they were given a dry cow tube at milking time as they came into the parlour, delaying milking. Now, Liam just uses the app to create a group, and they’re all picked out by the gate as they go through the parlour. At the end of milking, Liam runs them back through the parlour to tube and dry off.

‘It’s simplified the whole process,’ Liam says. ‘If I’m using fixed time AI on a group of cows, I can create a group on the app, and can pick out the entire group at a touch of a button every time I need to treat them over the course of the program. The gate will pick out each cow for me and the entire group will be ready and waiting at the end of milking’. Alfco and CowControl integrate seamlessly, allowing data to transfer from one app to the other.

Nedap Censortec CowControl has made running two herds far easier. Before installing Nedap Censortec CowControl, Liam and his staff were tail painting all cows every three or four days, as well as watching for heats before milking. ‘Heat detection was adding 20 minutes to every milking, and there was always confusion at the end of the breeding season as to what had been bulled or not,’ explains Liam. He also had to purchase four stock bulls each year, two for each herd. ‘Now,’ Liam continues, ‘we’re all on the same page. Our four staff and I are all looking at the same info on the app, and we all know exactly what’s going. It’s eliminated that confusion.’

‘Before I installed CowControl, I used to go to the out farm every morning to watch the cows for 20 minutes. Then I’d send a message to the milker with what cows needed to be picked out for bulling. Now, with the Alfco gate installed as well as CowControl, whatever cows need to be served are standing in the pen at the end of milking. It’s a massive saving on time,’ Liam concludes.

One week earlier this summer, the regular milker for the out farm was abroad on holidays, and Liam was away at a wedding. ‘I was still able to have the cows that needed to be served picked out for the AI man, even though I was in Ballina for the weekend. It’s great technology!’ Liam enthuses.

As well as saving Liam time, CowControl has allowed better breeding decisions to be made. ‘We’re using 100% AI now,’ explains Liam, ‘and it’s a great relief not to be worrying about stock bulls around the cows. There are no more cull cows being accidentally picked up by the bull so we’ve a healthier herd. It’s completely changed our pre-breeding management too. Before CowControl, we used to get the vet to check any cow that hadn’t been served in the first three weeks of the breeding season. Now, I get a list of non-cycling cows from CowControl before breeding starts, and they’re checked in the first week of breeding. Any problems are solved promptly.’

Liam aims for 90% submission rate in the first three weeks. Last year, he achieved an 80% submission rate. Now, with Nedap Censortec CowControl, Liam has achieved a 96% submission rate in the first three weeks of the breeding season, because any issues were identified and solved before breeding started. His six-week calving rate would be 85%, and Liam is expecting it to be higher this year because of CowControl.

‘It’s changed how we manage our heifers too. I was happy with the accuracy of the system in the milking herd, so I bought collars for the heifers in March 2022. Because CowControl gives a more accurate indication of optimal AI time, we decided to use sexed semen on the heifers. We used 80 sexed straws, and we’re really pleased with the results.’

Liam can’t imagine farming without Nedap Censortec CowControl now. ‘I can keep an eye on both farms from the one place now,’ he says, ‘all the staff are looking at the same info, they all have the app on their phone. I’m impressed by the amount of data I have on my phone about the cows, and the accuracy of that data. I think it’s an essential piece of kit for every farmer.’

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