THREE WAYS to tackle inaccurate dairy data: Accurate animal identification is the foundation for making effective herd management decisions

What’s the big deal if a data point is off here and there? Or a couple of cows are in the wrong pen? Or did you miss a milk weight or two?

“It is a big deal,” says Ron Dehli, Nedap technical business development manager, “because everything circles back to accurate data. If the wrong cow is identified at the wrong time, you could inadvertently sort a cow for breeding that is on the do-not-breed list. Or you might perform a mastitis intervention on a cow needing treatment for something else.”

Herd management systems gather information from the animal and give you an active solution based on that intelligence. However, if input data is inaccurate, the action item will be, too. Here are three things you can do to increase animal identification (ID) accuracy and data precision on your dairy.

1. Know system capabilities and component placement

Data accuracy depends on consistent, accurate and timely information for each correctly identified animal from select points throughout the dairy. Having the right tools to gather information accurately is crucial to ensure you have the best input data to make decisions.

For example, a transponder tag with a large read range and properly placed antennae offers highly accurate animal identification. Larger transponder tags housed on neck collars help increase tag read range and additional data points such as rumination and animal activity.

Additionally, it’s important to know the capabilities of system components, which are designed to read International Organization for Standardization (ISO) protocol RFID tags. The ISO standard is globally recognized for animal identification.

There are two types of these tags:
• FDX tags (or full duplex)
• HDX tags (or half duplex)

Some manufacturers’ equipment can read both tag types, and some can read only one or the other. Knowing if your system’s components are compatible is important to ensure accurate data transmission.

Regardless of the tag used, ensuring proper tag and reader placement is essential.

“If tags are randomly applied and not consistently placed in the right position, the read range is significantly impacted, and data accuracy may be compromised,” says Dehli. “It’s worth spending extra time and training with your team to confirm proper tag placement.”

2. Monitor electrical interference

Electrical interference can play a major role in interrupting data collection.

Before investing in a herd management system, your dealer should conduct a site survey to detect equipment and technology which can interfere with data collection, including variable speed fans and manure pumps, variable speed drives on well pumps, and fluorescent lighting. If not installed properly, this equipment can affect your identification system and the reading of tags.

“A rule of thumb is to install the variable speed drive as close as possible to the motor it’s controlling. While that’s not easy on a dairy farm, it limits the cable length a variable frequency is transmitted through and reduces the chance it will interfere with data collection systems,” explains Dehli.

Be mindful of interference and keep an eye out for changes like the addition of new equipment or flickering fluorescent lighting, which may influence ID performance. If there’s a change in data over time, check to see if a device is impeding accurate information flow.

3. Watch, analyze, and adjust

The beauty of data is you can use it to investigate deeper and see what’s happening down to the minute on your dairy. When reviewing animal performance, it’s vital to assess information accuracy and ensure IDs are read correctly at all checkpoints around the farm, from the milking parlor to the sort gate.

Start by developing protocols to regularly assess the accuracy of the identification system.

For example, pick a shift to stand in the parlor, either weekly or monthly, to double-check the system by monitoring whether the cow’s ID matches the stall ID. If not, explore factors possibly skewing the data: Is the RFID tag in the ear? Is the system transponder tag on the neck? Is it twisted? Is the tag working? Did the tag fall off ? Is the reader malfunctioning?

Many herd management programs offer diagnostic tools to record the number of cows identified or those not identified. If the number of cows identified changes significantly, check to see what occurred on that date.

“Most modern cars will tell you how many miles it’s running per gallon, but if you don’t reset it after every tank of gas, how accurate is it? Were those highway or city miles? Stop-and-go traffic or an 800-mile road trip? Where data comes from and how often it’s calibrated defines whether or not it is relevant,” says Dehli.

“You invest in technology to give you actionable information,” he concludes. “If you’re taking actions with animals that don’t need it, what’s the point? It comes down to efficient actions, and accurate data is the key piece of the equation.”