Ulster farmers advised to keep calving dairy cows in optimum condition

DeLaval body condition score camera
DeLaval body condition score camera

Global milking technology leader, DeLaval has launched the world’s first automated body condition score (BCS) system for cows, taking the guesswork out of an otherwise laborious process. Body condition scores are used as a critical measure of how effective feeding is on a farm and is key to breeding and overall profitability of the business.

The system ensures that dairy cows are kept in the correct body condition at calving, something which Teagasc’s Principal Research Officer, Frank Buckley recommends. Mr Buckley advised that it is important to have cows in a body condition score of 3.25 to 3.5 prior to calving. Having cows over or under conditioned will have a negative impact on both the cow’s milk and fertility performance throughout the year.

Keeping cows in the correct condition using the DeLaval BCS will mean the animal can use body reserves for milk production without impacting on her production and fertility. Mr Buckley also highlighted the risk of having cows too strong at the time of calving can cause issues such as metabolic diseases along with increasing the number of difficult births.

Body condition scoring also needs to be done accurately and at specific times in the lactation cycle. Knowing the body condition score of your cows helps a farmer plan feeding to ensure cows have healthy body fat reserves thus promoting milk production, reproductive efficiency and cow longevity.

The innovative BCS system launched by DeLaval 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 scoring but for various reasons they are not doing it today. With experts such as Teagasc now advising farmers of the importance of correct BCS at calving, farmers appreciate the benefit of a cost-effective solution for consistent, regular and accurate scoring, said Kieran FitzGerald, VMS Solutions Manager, Britain 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 in Q3-2015.

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