Farm Progress

Hardscrabble Farms’ 350 cows wear collars that transmit activity and rumination data from anywhere on the farm a few times every hour.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

December 14, 2017

4 Min Read
ALWAYS IMPROVING: Jerry Volenec (left), co-owner of Hardscrabble Farms, and herdsman Mike Spink say they are continually striving to improve milk production and herd health, and have no plans to expand their 350-cow herd.

Jerry Volenec and his wife, Jennifer, farm 1,000 owned and rented acres and milk 350 Holstein cows in a limited liability company with his parents, Charles and Marilyn Volenec, near Montfort in Grant County, Wis. Jerry is the fifth generation of his family to farm at Hardscrabble Farms.

In 2000, the Volenecs were milking 130 cows in a double-eight milking parlor. By 2010, they had increased their herd to 199 cows. In 2013, they expanded their parlor to a double-12 and their herd to 350 cows. Jerry Volenec was looking for a better way to detect when his cows were in heat. He also wanted to determine when a cow was sick with mastitis, ketosis or other ailments, and to know if a cow was eating or not.

The solution
After meeting with representatives from SCR, Volenec chose to purchase the SCR Heatime HR-LD System, which monitors cows’ rumination and activity. Each cow wears a collar that transmits activity and rumination data from anywhere on the farm a few times every hour. The system provides real-time health monitoring and up-to-date heat detection reports.

“We needed a computer management system,” Volenec says. “The only thing we had at the time was AgSource DHIA. Almost all of our cows were being bred through timed AI, and we wanted to get away from that.”

Their herd was averaging 25,515 pounds of milk per cow in 2013.

“We were looking to boost our milk production and take our herd to the next level,” Volenec says. Four years later, their herd average has increased to 32,597 pounds of milk per cow.

“Our hormone use has dropped by 90%,” says Mike Spink, herdsman at Hardscrabble Farms. “Now, Ovsynch is [only] a treatment for cows with cystic ovaries, which is what it is supposed to be.”

KEEPING TRACK: A tag on its neck collar monitors a cow’s activity and rumination.

Sweating the small stuff and paying close attention to detail is important to Volenec and Spink.

Since implementing the Heatime system, they have already noticed a number of benefits.

• much easier to detect cows in heat
• fewer days in milk
• time saved because it’s no longer necessary to take daily temperatures on every fresh cow
• reproductive drug costs reduced by 90%
• earlier detection of cows with ketosis, pneumonia or mastitis, which allows for earlier treatment and reduced negative impact on milk production

“We’re finding sick cows up to two days earlier than before we started using the monitoring system,” Spink says. “We had one cow that the Heatime system said she had pneumonia, but she was still eating. Heatime said her rumination was way off. I stuck a thermometer in her and her temperature was 107.”

Volenec says they are saving cows and money on their vet bill by catching sick cows earlier. “When a cow gets a little ketotis, you give her propylene glycol — you don’t wait four days and then cut a DA [displaced abomasum].”

Cutting-edge technology
Spink also likes that the Heatime software has the ability to send an email to his AI technician’s smartphone to let him know if he needs to stop again at the farm before he goes home.

“If the breeding list matches the list from the morning, then he doesn’t need to stop. If there are a couple of new cows on the list, then he knows to stop,” Spink explains.

Volenec and Spink say there are a number of things they like about the Heatime system.

“One thing that it does that we couldn’t do before is tell us if a cow is eating,” Volenec says. “Now we know. Another thing is you can tell if a cow is not active and not eating — then she is sick.”

AT A GLANCE: Herdsman Mike Spink can check his Heatime software to see in real time if any cows have rumination issues or are in heat.

Spink says the system has revealed some surprises. “We were getting cows pregnant at 60 days, and we had a hard time drying them off,” he says. “So we backed off a bit on our waiting period, to 80 to 90 days. Some cows we breed at 60 days, and others we breed at 100 days — it all depends on the cow.”

Volenec says they are treating their cows as individuals.

“We have one 5-year-old cow that just finished a 50,000-pound lactation,” he says. “We first bred her at 90 days, and she stuck right away.”

Volenec says they have a lot more older cows in their herd today. “Four years ago, anything over two or three lactations was a liability to me,” he notes. “Now I’m confident I can transition older cows. I have a 12-year-old cow in the herd. We have 109 cows over third lactation.”

Spink says, “We found the happy medium between increased milk production and limiting stress.”

Volenec estimates the payback for the Heatime system is about one year. “With reduced Ovsynch costs, less labor, earlier detection of sick cows and easier heat detection, it paid for itself in the first year and many times over,” he says.

For more information about the SCR Heatime HR-LD System, call Haim Fleminger, SCR marketing manager, at 608-260-5893.

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

Even though Fran was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Fran has 25 years of experience writing, editing and taking pictures. Before becoming editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturist in 2003, she worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

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