'The camera gives me more control of the herd and a better overall view'
Three years ago Johnny O'Hanlon and his parents, Gerard and Ann, installed three De Laval robotic milkers on their dairy farm in Ballyduff in north Kerry.
In April of 2016 they decided to further increase the level of automation on this farm by installing the De Laval Body Condition Scoring camera. They are presently milking 136 cows, with the autumn calving herd just starting to calve at time of writing.
The camera is positioned overhead the cows as they exit the drafting gate from the robots and a 3D photo is taken of each cow, covering the area from the shoulder to the tail head. The computerised system then transmits the body condition score of each cow to the farm PC in real time so Johnny can then monitor the rise and fall of the body condition of his cows, something that is not possible for most farmers to do.
I asked Johnny why he opted to put in the camera system. "Most farmers see their cows on a daily basis, however, with the robots you could go an extended period without seeing a particular cow. The camera gives me more control of the herd and a better overall view of what is happening to cow condition". He also points out that the camera can be put over any race or crush entering or leaving any standard parlour providing cows have ID transponders
One point that Johnny emphasised was that having all this information is of very little use unless you do something with it. If Johnny detects a cow losing body condition score, he will instruct the robot to increase meal feeding, and also if he detects a cow that is putting on too much condition he will reduce the level of meal. At present there are 16 cows in the herd receiving no meal and the range increases up to 9kgs for the freshly calved Autumn calvers. Cows are presently yielding 24litres with 3.86pc fat and 3.45pc protein (1.81kg milk solids/cow). Cows are expected to yield 9,000 litres in 2016.Another function of the camera is the facility to run dry cows under the camera allowing Johnny to tailor a feeding plan specifically based on the body condition of each cow.
Not many farmers in the country have the same level of information regarding the body condition of their herd as Johnny does, and even if they did, I doubt many would make as much use out of the information as Johnny does.