James and Paddy O’Connor farm in Whitestown, Co Wexford, and in the spring of 2021, they purchased the SenseHub animal monitoring collars. These collars monitor the critical data points of every animal through reproduction, health, group and nutrition monitoring.
When asked how the collars were performing, Paddy said: “It was pretty much like having another man in the yard.”
Paddy returned home in 2013 after completing the advanced dairy cert in Kildalton agricultural college. Up until 2018, they ran a mixed spring and autumn-calving system. They are now milking 220 Holstein Friesian cows and are running at a stocking rate of 3.1 LU/ha on the milking platform. They plan to expand further through efficiency rather than cow numbers.
Since 2018, they have moved to a 100% spring-calving system, with the dairy replacements and 40 whitehead bullocks being reared on out blocks. During the transition to 100% spring milk, the cow type did not change, but instead there was a bigger focus put on fertility and milk solids.
The fertility target aims to improve the six week calving rate and reduce the empty rate on the farm. Through focusing on the milk sub index, the target is to hit 550kg milk solids as the herd continues to mature.
The O’Connors are milking in a 20 unit Gascoigne parlour and over the years, they have put a lot of thought and effort into yard layout and design. In 2018, the latest addition was a new shed with 100 cubicles and feed space, which completes the yard and takes the pressure off winter housing.
Along with James and Paddy, Frank Cullen has been working on the farm for the last 13 years. As labour continues to be one of the biggest challenges on Irish dairy farms, the O’Connors have not been afraid to embrace technology. The main criteria being it must be of benefit to them and the daily running of the farm.
“It must be cost effective and fit into the system while reducing the daily work load,” said Paddy.
Having installed the Urban automatic calf feeder in 2007 and the Saber drafting gate in the spring of 2019, they have seen the important role technology can play in their system.
For the 2021 breeding season, having the collars on meant no tail paint was needed and they did not need to do any pre-breeding recording. Cows that were calved over 35 days that had not cycled were on a list on the app to be checked out.
The app on Paddy’s phone displays a reproductive timeline for each cow when she is in heat and shows the ideal time for insemination. Paddy says the collars took the guess work out of the breeding season.
In 2020, the empty rate was 11% after 12 weeks and although they have not yet scanned, going off the collars there is a roughly 7% empty rate in 2021 after 12 weeks of breeding.
Health alerts are sent to the app and if a cow is having an issue, Paddy will get a notification. If the cows’ condition worsens, there is a distress signal sent to the phone, alerting him that urgent attention is required.
Technical support representative with SenseHub, Catherine Heffernan, spoke on the day about the different options available for farmers when getting set up and the ongoing support provided.
Catherine explained how the collars monitor rumination, eating and activity. Daily monitoring of each cow creates their own individual trend and it is when this changes thst there is a heat or health alert sent.
The SenseHub collars range in price from €100-€120 excluding VAT, depending on whether you choose the heat only or the heat and health package. The collars have a battery life of seven years and a warranty of five years. The collars work with the Allflex sorting gate for drafting cows that are in heat or sick.
There is also a tag option, which ranges in price from €70-€80. The tag has a battery life of three years and a warranty for two and a half years
Going forward, Paddy is very positive that the collars can help them improve their system further and bring more flexibility to their day. As SenseHub and Saber are now both owned by MSD, the next step is to get the collars linked up to the Saber drafting unit, which is expected to happen early next year.