A team of University of Alberta students has concluded that a new electronic body condition scoring system can be beneficial and economical for dairy farmers.
Animal science students Heather Coates, Jesse Emery, Camila Hurtado and Cathryn Thompson undertook analysis of the DeLaval 3D automated scoring system and compared its cost to that of manual body condition scoring done by farm workers or veterinarians.
“We just looked at what this technology would cost and compared it to the cost of just the average farm worker body condition scoring the cows, as well as a professional, like a veterinarian, body condition scoring,” said Thompson.
“We looked at this cost over a 10-year period because that’s how long this technology is estimated to last right now.
“Over 10 years, its actually more cost effective to have this technology than to pay a professional or a farm worker to body condition score every two weeks.”
The system takes photos of dairy cows each time they pass a certain point where a camera is mounted. Using RFID technology and algorithms designed specifically for the breed involved, it assigns a body condition score to each animal.
By examining the data weekly, dairy operators can identify changes in cows’ body condition and take whatever steps are necessary.
The students said the technology is used in Europe and is making inroads in Eastern Canada but is relatively new to the West.
As part of the project, the students saw the system in operation on an Alberta dairy farm and also tried their hands at manually scoring cows at the U of A.
“It takes time to do it manually and we didn’t get the same scores as each other for every cow,” they said. “The camera eliminates the subjectivity of it.”
The DeLaval system studied is the only one of its kind now available in Canada, the students said.