Ear tags detect signs of cattle heat, stress

Photos by Hannah Gaebel-Dorn cows with electronic ear tags
HEAT DETECTION: Behavior monitoring systems such as Allflex SenseHub include individual electronic ear tags and computer software to report and record patterns such as movement and rumination while alerting producers of signs of heat or distress.
Here’s how one cattle producer is using technology to detect heats and improve breeding rates.

If you artificial inseminate your cows and heifers, you probably wish you spent less time heat-detecting and making sure you know exactly when they need to be bred.

Ever wonder if there’s a less time-consuming option? There is.

Reiss Bruning, a beef producer near Bruning, Neb., uses a behavior monitoring system at Bruning Farms called the Allflex SenseHub. The cattle operation runs 500 cows, 120 replacement heifers, and nearly 500 feedlot cattle.

The monitoring system includes individual electronic ear tags and corresponding software that sends information straight to a computer or mobile device. Allflex SenseHub is also available in individual neck collars.

Companies such as Select Sires, ENGS Systems and Ceres Tag have similar products that monitor the behavior and health of cattle through electronic ear tags.

Allflex SenseHub, like others of its kind, tracks and records behavior patterns such as movement, eating and rumination, Bruning says. After about seven days, the system establishes a baseline and trend for each animal. From there, the software uses an antenna to send mobile or computer alerts when change occurs, indicating signs of distress or heat.

For Bruning Farms, this system is an AI tool.

“When I was first home from college, we could only breed one pen per week,” Bruning says. “This monitoring system allows you to simultaneously synchronize several groups. Now, we pull CIDRs [controlled internal drug release] to onset heat, have full trust in the system, and let it tell us where to go and when to go breed.”

The following are heat detection benefits Bruning has seen from the system:

  • ability to breed multiple groups at multiple locations within a 10-day window
  • less time manually heat-detecting
  • fewer false heat signs compared to visually checking heat detection patches

The system also helps get cows back on track after calving and postpartum anestrous, the period when cows do not experience heat following calving.

“Another thing I’ve found valuable is postpartum anestrous,” Bruning says. “You can watch that from the time they calve and see how many times they have cycled or if they have even cycled. And then you can make your decisions on your synchronization protocol based on that.”

Bruning also uses the system for detecting start of puberty in replacement heifers.

“Once we give a brucellosis, or Bangs, vaccination to our heifers in the fall, they get one of these tags,” he says. “They’re out on cornstalks, and I can see who’s cycled once before we try to synchronize them.”

cows with electronic ear tags

Operations like Bruning Farms use behavior monitoring systems to understand if and when a cow has started to cycle again following calving.

Costs of the Allflex SenseHub system:

  • $56 per ear tag for heat detection only
  • $64 per ear tag for full monitoring, which includes herd health and heat detection
  • $1,950 for the antenna station

Bruning says the battery life of tags is typically 3.5 years. Ear tags are interchangeable between cows — just make sure the software knows which cow has each tag. This can be beneficial for herds with spring and fall calving groups or when replacing females in the herd.

“This system is to a T,” Bruning says. “They all have the same behaviors when they are in heat. We can’t be there all the time, every time.”

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