Cow body condition scoring generating savings for Irish farmers

Farmer, Drew McConnell is breaking milk yield records with the help of DeLaval on his Co Tyrone farm
Farmer, Drew McConnell is breaking milk yield records with the help of DeLaval on his Co Tyrone farm
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Irish farmers stand to generate significant on-farm savings by harnessing a new system designed to assess the condition of their cows enabling them to make better management decisions.

Recent trials conducted by global milking technology leader, DeLaval, in association with The Dairy Group* has clearly shown the greater potential for human error compared to using the DeLaval Body Condition Scoring (BCS) system.

The DeLaval Body Condition Scoring 3D camera is mounted on a gate to take an image of each cow which is converted into an accurate score

The DeLaval Body Condition Scoring 3D camera is mounted on a gate to take an image of each cow which is converted into an accurate score

The research was carried out on a herd of 184 high yielding Holstein Friesian dairy cows over a period of 22 days.

It showed that 21 cows were not assigned scores by a farmer due to misidentification, incorrect recording, cow ID or cow handling issues. Each cow presenting under the BCS camera was assigned a consistent score.

Furthermore, the time taken to manually ‘score’ cows vis-à-vis the BCS camera was three hours compared to an automated system providing accurate results with zero time input from the farmer.

Last autumn, global milking technology leader, DeLaval launched the world’s first automated body condition scoring (BCS) system for cows, taking the guesswork out of an otherwise laborious process.

“Most farmers understand the concept and benefits of body condition. However, they are not doing it because it is time-consuming and difficult to maintain consistency. Now that we have a cost-effective solution for consistent, regular and accurate scoring, we see that the potential is huge as borne out by this recent research.”

Kieran FitzGerald, VMS Solutions Manager, GB and Ireland

Body condition scores are used as a critical measure of how effective feeding is on a farm.

Body condition scoring needs to be done accurately and at specific times in the lactation cycle.

Knowing the body condition score of cows helps a farmer plan feeding to ensure his/her herd has healthy body fat reserves thus promoting milk production, reproductive efficiency and cow longevity.

The innovative BCS system makes it easy and quick for farmers to obtain an accurate body condition score of their cows.

The technology is based on a 3D camera fixed on a gate.

Once a cow passes under the camera, the system recognises the movement and selects the best still image of the cow in the video sequence.

The image is converted into an accurate body condition score. It then calculates the body condition score of each cow and sends it to DeLaval DelPro™ Farm Manager where the farmer can view graphs of individual animals, groups or the entire herd.

“Most farmers understand the concept and benefits of body condition. However, they are not doing it because it is time-consuming and difficult to maintain consistency. Now that we have a cost-effective solution for consistent, regular and accurate scoring, we see that the potential is huge as borne out by this recent research,” said Kieran FitzGerald, VMS Solutions Manager, GB and Ireland.

“The technology is a world-first and completely changes the way the farming community will look at body condition scoring. Achieving an accurate body condition score is now extremely simple. It gives consistent and daily feedback on the condition of a herd without any work on the part of the farmer. That’s valuable information that can have significant benefits to the health of the cow and to the running and profitability of the farm,” concluded Mr Fitzgerald.

By consistently and regularly measuring a cow’s body condition score, a farmer can monitor every cow’s body condition through all stages of the lactation cycle thereby ensuring each animal is in the best shape possible.

Traditionally, body condition scoring is done by looking at a cow and feeling but this can lead to inaccuracies, particularly if the shed is crowded.

Body condition scoring is more accurate than weighing.

Body weight varies a lot with feed and water intake, if the cow has manured or just been milked.

DeLaval’s own studies project that regular scoring and optimising the score could help the farmer to:

l Reduce cases of ketosis on farms by 50%

l Reduce the feed cost by trimming down the feed on overweight cows

l Increase milk yield from a herd where all cows have the optimum body condition - the system can mean an increase of up to 545kg during the first 120 days of lactation.

l Reduce the number of open days by bringing the body condition score back to an optimum level as soon as possible after calving and thereby returning the cow to its normal cyclical ovarian activity - conception rate can be improved by 50%

l Save the farmer time since the need for manual body condition scoring is gone, the alternative is that it will save the farmer the cost of bringing in resources such as feed advisors or veterinarians to do the body condition scoring

l Eliminates the subjective nature of scoring

DeLaval is now selling its DeLaval body condition scoring BCS in a number of countries in Europe including Ireland, North and South America and Asia.

By the end of the year, the system will be sold globally.

Today DeLaval body condition scoring BCS is available with DeLaval VMS™ - voluntary milking system and with parlours and rotaries.

The DeLaval body condition scoring has been awarded the acclaimed Innov’Space 2015 award.

* The Dairy Group is a privately owned dairy consultancy business, with consultants working throughout the UK and overseas providing independent advice and practical solutions to dairy farmers and those operating in the dairy sector.