It was the impromptu, overarching theme of the 2023 Precision Dairy Conference, hosted in June 2023 by the University of Minnesota.
Technology Let Cows be Cows
The best and most effective technologies in dairy production today are not necessarily the ones with the most bells and whistles. Rather, they’re the ones that simply “let cows be cows.” (Taylor Leach)

In a nutshell, consensus was that the best and most effective technologies in dairy production today are not necessarily the ones with the most bells and whistles. Rather, they’re the ones that simply “let cows be cows,” without a lot of human intervention – but do enhance humans’ ability to manage them and attend to their needs.

That same sentiment was echoed by dairy technology guru Dr. Jeff Bewley on a recent episode of The Dairy Podcast show. Bewley, who is a Dairy Analytics and Animation Scientist for Holstein Association USA, has evaluated more than 50 dairy technologies in his career.

He said the basic entre into technology on dairies is in herd-management software and feeding software. “Feed is the #1 expense on dairies, and while feeding software may not be the most exciting technology, it is very important for controlling cost variation,” he noted.

Next on Bewley’s list of valuable technologies is wearable activity monitors that measure rumination and heat activity. “Those technologies are now widely adopted in the industry, with many producers noting how well they help  them identify and assist sick cows,” Bewley shared.

He suggested that the adoption of any new technology should start by identifying the farm’s needs. What problems could be solved, or bottleneck addressed with technology?  “Think from the farm’s needs backward, rather than picking a technology and projecting it onto the farm,” Bewley suggested.

Further, he stated, “It’s not about the gadget or the toy or the tech; it’s more about the insight that we get from the data that will help us make better decisions. There’s a lot of data that we can and do collect on dairy farms that just sits there. And if it’s just sitting there, we’re never going to get the full value out of our investment in the technology.”

The researcher also warned that some systems are really “cool,” but might not add a lot of value to the business. And newly emerging technologies that are not fully vetted might not have all the bugs worked out yet. In such cases, the “leading edge” can become the “bleeding edge.”

As new technologies emerge, Bewley advised that the most fundamental element of dairying is that “the cow is the center of everything we do. The most successful producers and advisers are those who understand the cow, her needs, her behavior, and her biology.”

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