Putting a high-tech collar around the neck of the farm’s bull could be a new way for beef and dairy farmers to pick up any cattle fertility issues earlier, thereby improving herd performance.
Poor fertility is very costly, as it increases the interval between calvings meaning fewer calves a year. Ultimately, it leads to animals being culled.
Earlier identification of problems
The Irish inventor of the tool, called Moocall Heat, promises the collar will assist in earlier identification of problems such as not cycling or a bull becoming lame.
The idea behind the invention, set to be launched early next year, is to use an electronic collar on the bull to interact with special tags worn by the cows to spot when the 2 animals are in regular proximity.
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This can then be identified as a bulling event, and an alert is sent to a mobile phone, which (if the bull is vasectomised) can assist with artificial insemination timing, or to generate calving dates for beef farmers.
Cost of collar
The start-up cost is US$1,456 for one bull collar and 50 radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags which are unique to Moocall, with subsequent boxes of 25 tags costing about $93.
After the first 12 months of use, there will also be an annual subscription charge of $352 to cover the data used by the collar and additional software upgrades.
An additional benefit will also be identifying cows that are repeating their heat, which will help to either identify which cows or bulls are having fertility issues, explains John Larkin, Moocall’s head of technology and marketing.
Larkin says the collars track 3 types of data from the bull:
- the proximity and frequency of proximity to the nearest cow
- the bull’s activity during that proximity
- whether mounting behaviour has taken place.
Pulling all that data together and running it through their software means that it should strip out any incidental contact the bull has with the herd, such as when they are lying down near one another.
Smart mobile for alerts not necessary
Alerts can be by app or text message, meaning a smartphone is not required for the system, explains Mr Larkin, and they are transmitted over any mobile network, which increases the chance it will work in a poor signal area.
If data is gathered while there is no signal, the information will be stored until there is a network, and then transmitted in a burst, so providing there is some signal in each field it can be effective.
Battery life of 8-weeks
The collar has average 8-week battery life, although if it is constantly searching for a network it will be somewhat lower than that Mr Larkin says, although a mere 5 hours of charging will give another month’s service.
This means a bull is likely to only need handling once in the duration of a tight breeding season to keep the collar powered, and the tags in the females are passive, so require no battery power at all.
Which type of system is Moocall Heat most suitable for?
- With dairy systems chiefly operating via AI first and then using a bull to mop up the stragglers, the system could be used to identify cows who had been served by AI which had not held to first service.
- In a dairy system, a vasectomised bull could be used to identify cows which are undergoing a 'silent' heat, which means some other methods of heat detection would not pick them up.
- In a spring-calving beef system using a bull, cows are served outdoors and only checked once or twice a day meaning fertility problems are generally only picked up months later at scanning. The worst-case scenario is the bull becoming sterile or sub-fertile. A high number of repeat heats would flag this issue up much sooner.