Not your average Heatime user

Chris Catherwood
Chris Catherwood

We all have a perception of the type of producer who would make use of a heat detection system.

No doubt in your minds eye you can picture a high yielding Holstein producer, someone who is pushing for high yields per cow and who could probably do with tightening up his calving pattern. Not all farmers however conform to stereotypes.

I have to admit to being a bit sceptical back in January 2014 when I took the phone call from Chris Catherwood about a Heatime system. Why would anyone running a herd like theirs with a tight calving pattern on a low input spring calving system seriously consider investing in a heat detection system! Thankfully, I was wrong and after discussing it with Chris the reason became clear – time saving. Now, four years on Chris is reaping the benefits of huge time savings.

Last year Chris was milking 245 cows in partnership with John and Jason Rankin on the Ards peninsula, outside Newtownards and this year the team have plans to expand to 270 cows. Watching cows for heats has long been a thing of the past (something which previously took hours during breeding season) on the Rankin farm, with Chris now able to focus his efforts onto other management tasks. The policy on the farm is now to inseminate cows for 12 weeks with the need for stock bulls being non-existent. Figures produced by Chris from 2017 back up the success of his approach with 74.6% of cows calved in six weeks from the start of breeding. Another 15.4% were calved by nine weeks and the final 10% by 12 weeks. This has allowed Friesian sires to be used for five weeks before moving onto using triple Belgian Blue straws on the later calving cows with the resulting calves sold to ABP.

Chris is pleased that they have been able to stop using natural service bulls, firstly from a safety point of view but also because he would need a large team of bulls to cover so many cows in such a short window. Knowing when cows are on heat and accurately targeting the use of semen has also been key in keeping costs under control with a very impressive figure of 1.4 inseminations per cow last year. Cow yields on the farm for 2017 were just over 7,000 litres per cow with 565kgs of milk solids per cow.


Having worked with the system for a year Chris decided in 2015 that he could make even better use of his Heatime if he invested in a sort-gate. So, in the spring of that year he purchased a two-way sort-gate to do exactly that. With 270 cows coming on heat in the space of a few weeks it wasn’t long before he saw the benefits of having the cows drafted into a pen for A.I. In the peak of the breeding season there will be tens or twenties of cows standing in the pen waiting on being served after the morning milking while the rest of the herd can go back to the field to graze. With advanced settings on the sort-gate Chris now only programmes the gate to select cows when they are long enough calved to be ready for service and where their activity level is sufficient enough to ensure they have had a strong heat. The sort-gate also allows Chris to manually programme cows for a vet visit or for a PD session again reducing the time involved in searching through a whole herd of cows to retrieve a few for any further treatment. The unique design of the cow race with a Texas gate helps to ensure it’s accuracy, with Chris stating it rarely misses a cow that should have been drafted.

Healthy Cow 24

In 2015 the wifi was upgraded in the Rankin farmyard, this meant that Chris could take advantage of the newly launched App, Healthy Cow 24. Now he can monitor which cows are in heat or those showing low activity even when he’s at home or off the farm simply through his smartphone.

Chris has also integrated the Heatime control unit with his farm management programme, Uniform Agri. He uses this programme to register calves, record services, PD’s etc. so by entering the data once he can also update his Heatime control box and Healthy Cow 24 App, again saving time and reducing duplication.

Having had experience of using the system for a few years Chris feels that if he was installing the system from scratch he’d probably opt for the extra functionality afforded by the rumination system, particularly in detecting sick cows. He can also see the benefit offered by a three-way sort-gate to separate sick or lame cows separately from the cows in heat.

Chris’s experience also provides a valuable lesson to us all that maybe sometimes we all need to think differently as Heatime has been a revelation on this low input, spring calving farm saving valuable time and money. For anyone wishing to find out more about Heatime or SenseTime please contact Dairy Herd Management on 028 9037 2099.