Giving all cows a chance to perform

Courtney Churstain couldn’t be happier than when she’s running numbers and testing some theories using the rich vein of data produced by the Allflex Heatime® Pro+ monitoring system, which reads data from the collars on Rakaia Island’s 8,500 dairy cows.

 Courtney Churstain, Farm Technical Support, Raikaia Island (photo supplied)
Courtney Churstain, Farm Technical Support, Raikaia Island (photo supplied)

Courtney works full time in the role as Farm Technical Support. Rakaia Island is a big and complex operation, spread across two locations. There are four dairy units and one drystock farm; in the Canterbury foothills an hour away at Oxford are a further two milking platforms and one drystock farm, collectively known as Woodstock Farm.

The Heatime system has been in place in all the Rakaia Island herds for two years after a successful season with the system installed on their Woodstock farm units. The mating period, including the leadup, is when Heatime system really hits its straps. This starts from 1 September, 30 days after the planned start of calving. Mating (it’s all AI – no bulls are used) starts on 23 October on most of the farms, but from 19 October on Harakeke Farm at Rakaia Island, and for heifers.

The system takes a lot of pressure off at mating, with cows in heat drafted off via the Allflex Intelligate, ready for the technician. Once a week through mating Courtney compiles reports for each farm showing the numbers of cows put up for AI each day and the number of returns, as well as a lactation status graph. “This shows what’s been cycling or not, and what’s been mated.” As well as tracking progress throughout mating, Courtney has been able to use the data available through Heatime to drill down and take a close retrospective look for any connections between mating management factors and success.
Raikaia Island dairy cows with Allflex Monitoring Collars (photo supplied)
Raikaia Island dairy cows with Allflex Monitoring Collars (photo supplied)

Another key benefit of the technology is its accuracy in detecting pregnancy. Using Heatime’s nuanced ranking system for likelihood of pregnancy has enabled Rakaia Island to reduce the amount of pregnancy testing by about two-thirds.

The system also helps with animal health management, whether it’s identifying animals in distress or flagging early signs of subclinical health issues as they’re coming through the shed. Courtney says the drafting gates automatically separate cows that the system has red flagged, so the herd manager can check them out. It’s also possible to customise the thresholds that would trigger a red flag, she explains.

Getting Heatime up and running has been a big exercise, but the support from Allflex, especially Monitoring System Support Specialist Alex Smith and local Monitoring Specialist Jeff Hill, has been “absolutely unreal”, says Courtney. “If everyone provided support like Allflex does, it would make farming so much easier. I can do the in-house training of our staff, but it’s great having the support from Allflex when we need it.”

She’s appreciated the way Heatime has continually been improved in the three short years they’ve had the system – for example, graduating from working with spreadsheets and yelling out numbers to using an RFID wand with MINDA integration.

The collars and units have been performing well; Courtney would absolutely recommend the Allflex collars and Heatime system to other dairy farms and does so when asked.

Although they are much bigger than your average farm, Courtney returns to Rakaia Island’s guiding principles. “This isn’t about more and more cows. In fact one of our goals is to produce the same from fewer cows. Monitoring this way gives all our cows a chance to perform.”

At a glance
Rakaia Island in Turner family since 1994
Location: Rakaia Island, near coast at Southbridge, mid Canterbury and Woodstock Farm, near Oxford, Canterbury.
Milking platform: 6 farms, total 3,000ha, 8,500 Kiwi Cross cows
Drystock units: One each at Rakaia Island and Woodstock, total 1,300 effective ha, 2,200 replacement heifers and 2,300 calves
Staff: 40 dairy staff, 6 office staff, 6–24 staff raising youngstock
Total production (2019/20): 3.4 million kgMS

Allflex Livestock Intelligence
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Monitoring Specialist Team Leader
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Courtney Churstain and Allflex Monitoring Specialist Jeff Hill (photo supplied)
Courtney Churstain and Allflex Monitoring Specialist Jeff Hill (photo supplied)

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