Cambridge farmer Garry Reymer has always believed that accurate heat detection is the most important factor for successful dairy farming.
“Sure, you’ve got to be able to manage grass properly. But the crucial thing affecting how good your season is going to be is the ability to get as many cows in calf as possible while achieving the tightest calving pattern you can.”
Garry and wife Marie-Jose own two dairy units near Cambridge – the 87ha (effective) home farm at Monavale and another 80ha at Kaipaki - milking a total of 530 cows.
The Reymers have used a range of heat detection methods in the past, including tail paint, but when the Flashmate® Electronic Heat Detector came onto the market, Garry decided it looked like a great investment.
“It was different to anything else we’ve seen before,” he says.
Flashmate is a standalone disposable device that monitors cow heat behaviour 24/7. When a heat is identified, Flashmate flashes red for 26 hours, indicating the cow is ready for artificial insemination. The device continues monitoring for subsequent heats and if the cow does not return to heat after 25 days it will begin flashing green to indicate that the cow is a ‘non-return’ and likely pregnant.
“A lot of riding activity happens at night, and so it’s very easy to miss a heat if you are using products like tail paint,” says Garry.
“But when Flashmate starts flashing, it’s like a little red beacon that immediately draws your attention to the cow. Instead of you going out and having to decide if a cow is in heat or not, Flashmate is telling you she is. It makes accurate heat detection so much easier.”
Flashmate was used over all cows on both farms, with the devices applied to the Kaipaki herd in late September and the Monavale herd in early October.
“It took us an afternoon to apply the Flashmates on each farm. They are very easy to put on if you follow the instructions. Because we were doing it for the first time we decided to run the cows up the vet race and do it that way, which took a bit of time. Next year, we will probably do the job during milking.”
Garry says the retention rate during the first two weeks was excellent, “but after that we started to lose a few and that’s probably my fault because we didn’t follow the maintenance schedule properly and had to reapply them. That’s something we will definitely fix up next year.” But by early November, the results were looking very positive.
“In the past we would have been happy with a non-return rate of 70% by this stage, but our non-return rate this year is in the high 70’s , which is the best we’ve ever done and reflects that our matings are now better timed. The final proof of the pudding will be in mid-February when we scan.”
While the one-season-use Flashmate is more expensive than other heat detection products, Garry is convinced it will provide a greater return on investment.
“Depending on the payout, it costs us about $160 in lost production every time we miss a heat. So we only have to pick up one extra cow every second day to get our money back. Anything above that is a bonus.”
Garry says Flashmate has also made life easier for his team. “Heat detection is a big responsibility for staff, so you’ve got to give them the best tools available to help them do the job properly.”