Heat detection technology gives Stratford farmers peace of mind
A sea of red and green flashing lights in the paddock outside Becky Corlett and David Knowles’ home in Stratford signals peace of mind.
The lights are beacons from FlashMate - Gallagher’s Electronic Heat Detector pads designed to monitor a cow’s behaviour when on heat. The technology is an investment that is paying dividends for the couple, reducing their herd’s empty rate from 16 percent to 11 in the first season of use.
The couple sharemilk 600 cows on David’s parents’ 230 ha farm, DAK Dairying Limited. They know the success of their business comes down to getting as many of their cows in calf as possible.
Becky says while FlashMate may be more expensive than other methods, like scratch pads or tail paint, the technology has paid for itself through improved in-calf rates and a shorter calving season.
“The investment was worth it. We had a 5 percent decrease in our empty rate, so we went down to just below 11 per cent. That means less cull cows, hopefully more replacement calves and also means a shorter calving period, as we have a lot of cows due within the first six weeks,” says Becky.
Before they started using FlashMate their empty rate had climbed to 16 percent – their highest ever.
“We were all upset with that result. It was a really tough season for us. It was bad weather-wise, and it seemed our cows just weren’t coming onto heat or we were missing them,” says Becky.
A neighbour down the road had been using FlashMate on some of his herd so the couple, who had been using scratch pads and tail paint, thought, why not give it a try?
“For us just the drop in the empty rate is enough to pay for itself. At 4am, when you’re tired it’s pretty hard to miss a red flashing light. FlashMate means you’re not having to read a scratch pad. You still need a level of skill in reading a cow, but with FlashMate, 90 percent of the job is done for you,” says Becky.
The couple has also learned the best ways to apply the technology.
Staff use a curry comb two days before applying FlashMate to ensure there is no excess hair on the cow’s rump, allowing the pads to stick close to the skin.
“We found the pads really easy to put on. The key is making sure the area on the cow’s rump is groomed beforehand, to make sure FlashMate will stick well.”
Becky says they also sprayed the FlashMate glue on as the cows entered their rotary shed, and applied the pads just before they exited, so the glue had time to get tacky.
“We put them on the left rump. They’re easy to see as it’s facing us as they’re coming around the rotary platform. There is a big red light flashing at you. They’re pretty hard to miss, even for our more inexperienced staff.
“There were days when we were putting up 50 cows for AI and that’s just unheard of for us. The AI tech was saying they’re all on heat. They’re not false ones.
Because Flashmate monitors animal contact to pick up when a cow’s on heat, Becky says it can pick up the ‘silent cows’ because it recognises mating signals.
“With scratch pads it’s not always easy to select the right cows on heat and it’s not reading all those silent cows.”
FlashMate flashes red for 26 hours once the right heat activity is detected to indicate the cow is ready for artificial insemination. Once artificially inseminated, if the same cow does not come back on heat within 25 days, FlashMate will flash green to indicate possible conception. If the same cow returns to heat again, FlashMate will again flash red.
FlashMate looks for specific patterns of animal contact that is associated with mating activity, such as frequency, number and length of contact. FlashMate will not be activated by a one-off contact event.