Farming: It’s in your blood!

The pioneering spirit runs deep among members of the Christensen family who have been in farming for five generations since 1879 on the southern side of Mount Bruce in Wairarapa.

Fourth generation owner Harry Christensen installed one of the first rotary dairy sheds in the country and son Jason, the fifth generation on the property, was an early adopter of cow monitoring technology when he built a new rotary shed on the property soon after coming home in 2013.

The entire Fernhill 340-cow herd is now fitted with new Allflex Heatime Pro+ collars which capture more data including rumination activity. The new rotary dairy shed is fully kitted out with Allflex’s in-shed feeding, milk monitoring and auto-drafting software package.

Jason enjoys having information at his fingertips and incorporating it into his daily and strategic decision making. It is also empowering his two long-serving staff members, Paul King and Kiela Te Awhe, who feel more informed about operational activities and less pressured at critical times of the year, particularly mating and calving.

For 10-year staff member Paul King, adding the rumination data in the latest upgrade has already saved cows who got into difficulties through the calving period.

“When an alert comes in, we are able to get there quickly and stop an issue becoming a significant problem,” Paul says.

“You don’t have to save many cows to make the investment worthwhile,” he says.

Jason is convinced that investing in the cow monitoring technology will also pay further dividends in staff retention or recruitment in the future. “In many ways, we’re trying to future proof ourselves. Dad was leading edge when he built the first rotary in Wairarapa and we know the next generation is more IT savvy than my generation.”

He’s confident that once staff experience the benefits of working on a property where monitoring technology is available, they won’t want to work on one that doesn’t have it. “Why would they want to go back,” he asks.

First calving heifers are collared around May 1 as they come back to the milking platform so the system has several months of data on each animal by the time calving approaches later in the year. At least 10 days of data is required to set a ‘normal rumination activity’ level for each heifer which then sets trigger levels for alerts to signal any issues or cycling behavior ahead of mating.

Trusting the data enough to not pregnancy test most of the cows was a significant, first-season cost saving. They did scan a mob of about 60 cows that were either suspected as dry, based on data, or had been in the synchronisation programme leading into mating last year.

“We saved $3/cow from not having to preg test most of the cows so that’s a big saving for us.”

Their drafting gate can be operated with a manual switch or set to automatically draft off animals on either a predetermined list or one that is collated based on the current milk data feed.

Jason says having the confidence in the data to automatically draw out a mob of cycling cows for the technician to inseminate means that if one of the team calls in sick, anyone can step into the shed and milk the cows without the pressure of selecting cows for mating.

“What we found was that the computer did know best and it was able to pick up cows that we wouldn’t have picked before.”

They will maintain a nine-week mating period from now on, giving cows just three chances to be inseminated and still aim to achieve further reductions in empty rate from the current 14% for mixed age cows and heifers combined. Tail painting has been dropped as well.

In the past, heifers have just been mated naturally, but Jason is introducing a component of insemination with beef semen for the coming mating season thanks to the cow monitoring information.

Being an early adopter of the original collars, Jason says he relied heavily on the back-up from the company. He jokes that he has his local Allflex regional rep “on speed dial” but says the peace of mind that comes from an 0800 number that is answered by an expert anytime from 4am to 8pm is excellent.

Mating is just around the corner and if standing on the platform day in day out, week after week isn’t looking appealing - then it’s not too late to get Allflex Collars on your cows before mating.

Contact your local Allflex Monitoring and Automation Sales Specialist

Mount Bruce, Wairarapa
150ha milking platform
177ha run-off
200ha regenerating bush
340 cows

Allflex Livestock Intelligence
Gordon Keow
South Canterbury / Otago
Phone: 027 306 8201

Laura Christensen
Southland / South Otago
Phone: 027 256 7967

Collars - Allflex Livestock Intelligence New Zealand
Monitoring and Automation Sales Specialists.
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