Why tail paint?
- Tail paint is an inexpensive and effective way to detect cows on heat.
- Correct use of tail painting can identify almost 90% of cows on heat.
- Tail painting helps pick up cows that are only on heat for a short time and would otherwise be missed without a heat detection aid.
How to tail paint
- Use commercially available specifically formulated products.
- Paint a strip about 20cm long and 5cm wide along the ridge of the backbone immediately above the tail.
- Remove loose hair and dirt before applying tail paint. Don’t apply paint too thickly.
- When applying tail paint for the first time, apply the paint from the tail pushing towards the cow’s back—this will lift the hair and make it easier to detect heats when the cow is ridden. A cow that is ridden will either have the paint rubbed off or have their hair pushed down and dirtied by mounting.
- Check the paint strip each milking. In 90% of cases, most of the paint will be rubbed off when a cow is on heat. A further 5% of cows will lose some paint, and with the remaining 5% confusion can occur, so experience in reading tail paint is needed for these cows. Paint is rarely removed by occasional mounting of cows not on heat in the yard or race.
- Cows detected on heat and then inseminated should be repainted the following milking. Use a different colour when re-painting inseminated cows. Unmated cows are then easier to identify.
- Touch paint up at least weekly.
Heat mount detectors
There are two types of heat mount detectors - pressure-activated tubes or scratch-off patches. Applied to the cow's backbone, the detectors will become brightly coloured and easily recognised.
Heat mount detectors should be applied just before mating starts, then monitored for activation and removed at insemination. If they are damaged or coming loose, they will need to be replaced.
Heat mount detectors can be particularly effective on farms with staff that are less skilled at checking cows on heat as less ‘technique’ is required to apply or read them. They also reduce the time required to re-fresh tail paint. However, they are more expensive and can still provide false and missed heats.
Using heat mount detectors
- Prepare cows by removing loose hair and dirt a few days before you intend to apply aids, do not do it the same day as the oil from the coat can prevent glue to stick.
- Apply heat mount detectors according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Check for other signs of heat if the detector is lost as it may indicate the cow is on heat.
- Consider combining heat mount detectors with tail paint. Combining two heat detection aids may reduce the risk of missed heats.
Electronic heat detection
There are a variety of electronic heat detectors in cameras and activity meters.
The heat detection cameras ‘read’ heat from heat mount detectors. The camera systems work in conjunction with drafting systems so both need to be installed to use the product.
Activity meters are electronic transponders that detect movement, either attached to the cow’s leg or hung around their neck. They record cow movement as cows on heat typically walk more as they are restless, mounting and being mounted by other cows. The amount of activity is compared to previous days to identify spikes in activity and 'identify' heat. Some brands compare cow activity to the rest of the mob on the same day. This can adjust for days where there might be a long walk to a back paddock. Check the reliability and durability of this technology before you purchase it, talk to other farmers with the system to discuss strengths and weaknesses.
Using electronic heat detection
- Train staff how to use the technology.
- Use a secondary heat detection aid in case the technology fails either on the individual cow’s monitor or if the whole system goes down (a power outage).
- Continue to look for cows on heat, no electronic system will pick up all the cows on heat that a person would.
Vasectomised bulls may help identify cows on heat along with other heat detection aids. It is important to have enough bulls so that bulls are not overworked and injured or that they only ride cows with strong heats. Keeping vasectomised bulls on farm increases health and safety risks.