Ovalert works as a sixth sense for dairy farmers

category Article, Ovalert
Jolanda and Erik Luiten

CRV’s Ovalert system registers cow behaviour and links this information to other data that is collected on dairy farms. This data gives farmers a valuable, new herd management tool.

As well as indicating heat expression, the system also flags up any animals with possible health issues. This allows farmers to respond sooner and use less drastic measures.

Their enthusiasm for the management support provided by Ovalert is overwhelming. Dairy farmers Erik and Jolanda Luiten wouldn’t want to be without the system. They run a farm with 170 head of dairy cattle in Aalten, Gelderland (NL). ‘The possibilities have really been expanded, especially since the health module was added’, explains Erik Luiten.

System in action 24/7

‘In the first few years, we used Ovalert to identify cows in heat. That was, and still is, a very useful functionality. The system is in action 24/7 and identifies more than 96% of the animals that express heat. There’s no way a farmer could match that’, he continues.

The system helps improve herd health


‘Now Ovalert can also alert you of cows with possible health issues, perhaps because they are eating less all of the sudden, for example.’

Anne Hulsman, marketing consultant at CRV, sees that dairy farmers mainly seem to be aware of the fertility management function of Ovalert. ‘The system acts like a sixth sense for farmers. But not all farmers are aware that Ovalert can also help them gain greater control of health aspects’, she says.

From leg tag to neck tag responders

Erik and Jolanda Luiten have used Ovalert for many years and began using the health module in 2017. They started using responders attached to the leg to pinpoint their cows in heat but replaced this system by neck tags with responders a few years ago.

‘Partly because this allowed more types of behaviour to be monitored, such as eating and rumination activity, partly because we find these neck tags are easier to use. It’s much simpler to slip a collar over the cow’s head than attach the responder to its leg!’ says Erik Luiten. On their farm, it’s mainly Jolanda Luiten who works with Ovalert. It’s an amazing tool. Not a single cow in heat escapes our attention’, she comments. ‘Ovalert also detects cases of false negative heat. Those are cows you think are probably in heat because they try to mount another cow.’

Health module

According to Jolanda, the Ovalert health module also generates useful information. She commends the reliability of the cow alerts. ‘If a cow at the end of dry period suddenly eats less on a certain day we know the time has come to transfer her to the calving barn. A change in the eating pattern is nearly always a sure sign that calving is about to start.’

And, according to the farmers, Ovalert never fails to detect any changes that could indicate sign of disorders or sickness. ‘The great thing about the system is that it combines all the data it gathers with data available from other sources’, says Luiten. ‘We use robots to milk our herd, so a wealth of data is generated. Take the milk EC for instance. Adding this information to data from the sensor about the cow’s eating and activity behaviour enables the system to indicate that a cow is possibly starting to develop mastitis at a very early stage. Often a whole day sooner that you would notice the signals yourself’, she explains.

Reduce antibiotic use

‘And what a difference a day can make. You can often successfully treat a cow in early stage mastitis by applying udder mint cream. That is a very valuable way of avoiding and reducing your antibiotic use.’

But Luiten is also keen to stress that working with Ovalert doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of observing your herd. ‘It is and remains an assistant, a handy tool. You still always have to monitor and watch your cows. Sometimes you won’t get an alert for days or weeks, but all that can change in an instant’, she warns. ‘But, the longer you work with system, the more links you notice between a cow’s behaviour pattern and her production figures. Everything is inter-related.’ Hulsman notices that farmers new to the health module in the Ovalert system often find it difficult to properly interpret the data they receive. ‘With fertility it’s more straightforward. The sensors indicate whether a cow is in heat or not. But with health aspects the sensor doesn’t say: this cow is suffering from a specific disorder.’

Help from a coach at the start

To help farmers get to grips with the health module, CRV allocates a so-called start-up coach to every new user in The Netherlands and Flanders. This coach is a specially trained veterinarian who can teach dairy farmers with personal guidance how to interpret the data from the health module.

‘That approach certainly seems to work well’, says Hulsman. ‘And in many cases, the farm’s own regular vet is also present when the start-up coach is giving advice.’

Ovalert generates data on individual cow health, but also on the health status of groups of animals, such as heifers. Luiten: ‘You can also use the sensor technology to monitor sick cows to see if treatment is helping. All this adds up to improving animal health and welfare and avoiding production losses.’

Which technology is involved?

Ovalert monitors dairy cows day and night. The system indicates which animals are in heat and sends health alerts. How does it work? The cow’s activity is registered by sensors which are located in a responder attached to the leg or neck of the animal. The precise activities that are registered differ according to the responder. Registration includes: walking, lying, standing, eating, rumination, heat behaviour, other behaviour, group behaviour, and the cow’s location in the barn. All the registered data is analysed by a process controller and transmitted to the farmer’s Ovalert software. Ovalert helps dairy farmers gain better insight into their herd and how to translate data into action. For example, the program can link this information to other data, such as fertility and mating advice.

This article was published on 24 mei 2018 in ‘Nieuwe Oogst’