One of the common theories of conventional dairymen is that the grass farmers abandon new technology. While that might be true of a few farmers, the truth is grass farming uses some of the latest technology; however, it is mostly low cost technology.
Some examples include plant species with drought tolerance and rapid recovery as well as fence chargers with the ability to maintain a hot charge with lots of forage touching the fence.
Because of our seasonal approach to dairying we began using some new technology back in 1995 that has paid us high dividends from its use. That is our “Heat Watch” system. This system consists of radio transmitters attached to the tail head of the cow which send a signal to a buffer at my computer each time the cow stands to be mounted. Upon starting the heat watch program in my computer each mount and its time and duration is displayed which allows us to pick the appropriate time to inseminate the cow.
Transmitters cost about $50 each and while we need a transmitter for each cow a conventional dairy would only need enough for the average number of cows bred each six week period. We have found the system to be very reliable as well as durable and have now used the system for 9 years with only the need to replace batteries in the transmitters. Some practical results we have seen from this system is that most dairymen don’t see the first mount that a cow has and because of that they wait too long to breed most cows. Our experience has shown that up to 70% of cows stand for the first mount between 8 pm. and 4 am. Thus when a farmer sees her standing at morning milking she has already been standing for several hours. Our practice is to breed a cow 6 to 8 hours after fist mount. With this practice we average near 65% first service conception. With over 85% settled in six weeks.
Something else very valuable to a grass based dairyman is the ability to know how rapidly their grass is recovering and how much they have at a specific time. For that reason we take pasture walks about every ten days and record the amount of grass we have and how quickly it is recovering. While just seeing the grass gives a grazier an idea of what he has, recording those observations allows a grazier the ability to analyze what he is growing. About four years ago I began recording my pasture growth and using a spreadsheet to record and project how long that grass would last.
As I entered all the data into the spreadsheet I realized that although this was very beneficial it was also time consuming. Because of the time involved to enter the data it often didn’t happen when recorded thus reducing the benefits of collecting that data.
My son is a computer program developer, and in discussing what I was doing he suggested developing a program that would allow me to collect the data and record it in the field as I collected it. This involved the addition of a PDA where data could be entered in the field and then docked to the main computer to transfer that data to a program that would record and analyze that data. Over the last two years we have developed a program that allows us to evaluate how much grass we have on any given day and evaluate whether we have a surplus which needs to be harvested or if we are consuming more than we are growing and need to start supplementing stored feed. We have also added a GPS unit to the PDA which allows us to measure daily the acreage which is allotted to the different herds. We now also take daily dry matter readings as the cows enter a paddock and as they leave to check their daily dry matter intake.
The program then projects the dry matter available on the farm daily and corrects that daily projection each time we do our pasture walks and enter exact data. We can now project just how many acres of pasture we need to harvest to avoid pasture becoming too mature before we can graze it. We can also judge if we need a follow-up herd to remove additional forage after the milking herd grazes to remove the residual to the correct grazing height for proper regrowth. The program also produces charts and graphs which allow us to better analyze our production and utilization. This makes for a much better financial picture of what we produce on our farm. What is so amazing is that this technology is extremely low cost in comparison to the value it provides to us.
Since my son has developed the program and we realize the potential benefit to many other grass farmers he has decided to market the software at $275. An adequate windows based PDA can be purchased for a price between $250 and $600 and a GPS unit for between $100 and $250.
At current prices it is possible to put together a complete system of pasture growth and analysis for around $800 plus your home PC. That low price can reap rewards even for the person with a small herd and would work as well for a beef or sheep grazier as it does for a dairy grazier.
We released the software in April 2004 to allow a grass farmer to benefit this season. The program has the capability to store data from multiple farms so grazing specialists can use it to store data from several farms they are working with. I feel this can benefit any grass farmer and should be in the hands of every grass land specialist in every state. The only way we can become more proficient at utilizing our grazing systems is if we know what we are producing and how we’re using it.
If you would like information on the Heat Watch system or this Pasture Tracker system and help with selecting the necessary equipment to adequately support these systems just contact us.