It’s Getting Hot in Here: The Most Effective Way to Track Cows in Heat

Why Monitor Heat Signs Anyway?

They say that timing is everything. This is definitely true when it comes to inseminating cows – the timing must be perfect in order for the insemination to result in conception.

When conception rates are maximized, cows become pregnant at the optimal time to ensure that milk production remains at its optimum level, resulting in healthy cows and a healthy bottom line for the farm. Despite the critical importance of conception rates, only 35-45% of cows get pregnant on the first insemination.

Each time a cow is inseminated and the attempt is unsuccessful, the farm loses money. So, if the goal is to ensure that cows conceive as soon as possible following the voluntary waiting period (VWP), farmers should do everything in their power to make that happen. Tracking heat signs to detect the exact right time for insemination is the key to getting the timing right and increasing conception rates. Read on to learn why traditional heat detection methods are becoming obsolete in the wake of the digital transformation wave that is hitting the farming industry

Traditional Methods of Heat Detection

Heat detection has been around for generations, and while technology has advanced there are farmers who continue to use the traditional methods, the most popular of which are manual heat detection and tail painting (also known as chalking).

Manual Heat Detection

Farmers must go into the barn or the pasture and visually observe each cow for the visible signs of heat. This has to happen 365 days a year, in the heat of the summer, the cold of winter, and during the rainiest of days. Even without missing a day, farmers still may only catch 50% of the cows in heat considering that cows can show heat signs at night when the farmers are not watching. 

On larger farms with more staff, there can be discrepancies in the way different people track or view heat signs. And, each person must record their findings. Whether using a pen and paper or a spreadsheet, manual data entry always runs the risk of inadvertent mistakes and potential misinterpretations, all of which can lead to missed opportunities for catching the right moment for insemination. Finally, on a large farm with hundreds or thousands of cows, the sheer amount of time that must be spent on watching for heat signs takes away from time that could be spent on other necessary tasks. 

The biggest downside of manual heat tracking is that it requires a lot of manpower hours and still results in missing up to 50% of cows in heat, reducing the reliability of this method.

Tail Painting/Chalking

Another popular option is tail painting, also called chalking. With this method, chalk or another substance is put on the cow’s tail. When the cow is in heat and other cows mount her, the chalk will rub off leaving the farmer a telltale sign of heat. Rather than observing the cows in person, the farmer can simply check the tails as the cows enter the milking parlor and determine which ones are ready for insemination.

Tail painting is labor-intensive and time-consuming as each cow needs to be placed in a headlock in order to get painted or chalked. While it is possible to purchase this as an additional service from the insemination company, that comes at an additional significant expense. 

Tail painting can also be inaccurate and unreliable in cases where a cow might be in heat but was not mounted or the chalk did not rub off enough to be noticeable. In addition, cows that are already pregnant will not be chalked despite the fact that they may have had an abortion and then be in heat again.

Farming is Joining the Digital Revolution…

Advances in technology are not just for high-tech businesses – more traditional industries are also undergoing their own digital revolutions. Farming is no exception and there are plenty of innovative technological tools that can help make farmers’ lives easier and ultimately impact the farm’s bottom line.

The most impactful technology when it comes to dairy farming, in particular, is the ability for remote monitoring and collection of real-time data. Devices like leg or collar tags can be placed on the cow and use sensors to track different health parameters (i.e. rest and rumination), including signs of heat. The key advantages to this type of digital monitoring are the continuity and accuracy. Continuous 24/7 monitoring means a farmer can be alerted to the optimal time for insemination regardless of what time of day or night it is and without having to physically be there checking each cow. When monitoring digitally, the cows – and heifers – can be monitored even during the voluntary waiting period in order to catch the earliest possible moment when heat begins. The sensors can also pick up on cows that are not showing heat signs and may require treatment, giving the farmer valuable insight that would otherwise be missed. 

Digital monitoring provides farmers with a real-time picture of overall cow health and fertility including when the cow is in heat and, down to the hour, the best time to inseminate, increasing the chances of successful insemination on the first try.

It’s not Just the Data but also the ANALYSIS…

Yes, digital monitoring will significantly improve heat tracking and detection, but in order to really see a drastic change in a farm’s bottom line, analysis of the data gleaned from the digital monitoring is key. Monitoring will reveal when a cow is in heat and will offer a window of time for optimum chances of successful insemination. But, once you start analyzing the data, you open up a whole new world of possibilities. 

Following are key points that can only be revealed with proper analysis:

  • Optimal VWP Length – by analyzing the data, a clear picture will emerge to show the farmer how long the VWP for that specific farm should be. They will be able to see the conception rate of cows on first insemination at various intervals of time (i.e. less than 50 days in milk, between 50-70 days, etc.) and will be able to easily identify which time frame results in the highest fertility performance. 
  • Reduce Number of Open Days – based on analysis, the farmer can identify the optimal day to conduct the first insemination that is most likely to result in pregnancy. In this way, it is possible to shorten the calving interval by reducing the open days, ultimately saving the farm money. 
  • Bull Analysis – most farms use the semen of more than one bull for insemination. With a digital system, it is possible to easily track which semen is used for each cow and the data can show whether some bulls’ semen result in higher conception rates than others. This information can save a lot of wasted semen, time and money.
  • Inseminator Analysis – on some farms, there may be more than one person who inseminates the cows at different times, particularly on a larger farm or if a service is used and does not necessarily send the same inseminator each time. It is possible to track the inseminator’s performance (measured by conception rates) in order to see whether some have more skill (or luck) than others and then adjust accordingly. 

Using data analysis based on digital monitoring, farmers can increase the heat detection rate which will in turn increase conception rates and have a positive impact on the farms’ productivity overall. In addition to monitoring each cow individually, the data can also provide a picture of the health and fertility of the entire herd as a whole. 

Join the Next Generation of Farming

If you have not already joined the digital revolution, now is the time. Imagine being able to take a vacation, spend more time with your family, or simply have time to manage the farm more efficiently knowing that your cows are being monitored and you will be alerted to any cows in heat without needing to physically be there. You can get a customized report daily, informing you of which cows should be inseminated and when – the future of your farm at the click of a button on your desktop or mobile. 

You surely use technology to bring convenience to your life in many aspects, why not bring it to your farm too?

About Afimilk

Afimilk provides advanced dairy management solutions for farmers including cow monitoring, farm management software, and parlor automation. We go above and beyond standard monitoring to bring our customers the sophisticated data analysis needed to make the best possible decisions with 24/7 technical and application support. Our user-friendly platform is cloud-based, and provides real-time data that is fully accessible from desktop or mobile app. 

Contact us for more information. 


Click here to learn more about Afimilk’s cow monitoring solutions. 


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