Choosing the right tools and technology, such as activity or mastitis sensors, is an increasingly important part of managing your dairy business. Farms will lean heavily on smart tools to automate some tasks, better manage natural resources, assess profitability, meet compliance requirements, improve the welfare of farmers and animals, and to connect farmers to customers.
Here are four key questions you should ask before deciding how you might use technology and tools to improve an aspect of your operation.
1. What are your goals in this area?
What does success look like for you? Is it more profit, fewer errors, peace of mind, supporting new staff, or more free time? The improvements might be measurable, such as your six-week in-calf rate. Or they could be less tangible, like less stress, less dependence on skilled operators or being home 30 minutes earlier in the evening. Remember, just thinking ‘return on investment’ might mean you miss out lifestyle-related factors.
2. What is your current performance?
What’s really causing the ‘issue’? For example, with reproduction, how much is heat detection contributing to the fertility gap and how well is heat detection performed on your farm already? For improved pasture utilisation, think about all the factors that lead to good grazing performance: measurement, accurate allocation, assessing grazing residuals and continual refinement. DairyNZ tools include the InCalf Fertility Focus Report and SmartSamm.
There are few ‘silver bullet’ technologies out there. Remember, finding the cows on heat or with mastitis is only one step towards improved performance.
3. What are the alternative options?
Technology can often be promoted as the cure, but is there another (cheaper/more effective) remedy? First, consider changes to current practices, focusing on improving the skills within your farm team or seeking the input of advisors.
For example, can you raise awareness among your team of the causes and signs of lameness through DairyNZ’s Healthy Hoof programme, to give them a reason for changing their practice?
4. Will technology help you meet your goals?
When comparing options, start with performance – does it work like it says on the box? For many dairy technologies, it can be hard to tell without a comprehensive trial. So, find a farmer who’s using it already and ask them some tough questions, such as how easy it is to learn and use, what are the other skills required (computer skills, data entry), how do staff interact with it and what evidence do they have to support their perception of its performance?
Your levy – our tools
Check out DairyNZ's website for information on dairy farming tools, tactics and technology – plus a wide range of online tools and planning templates which you can download free.