LIC Calving App

August 2013

Information technology to assist dairy farmers

LIC has developed a new app for Android and Apple smartphones, which allows dairy farmer clients to enter calving data that are then sent via the cellular network and LIC into their MINDA herd records. It eliminates the need to enter the cow/calf records from a “yellow book” or notebook into the farm computer, thus reducing the time taken for record keeping at a very busy time of year.

As dairy farms have increased in size and complexity, dairy farmers have looked to information technology to assist with herd management. The widespread adoption of LIC’s MINDA herd records service, for example, has allowed the recording and retrieval of detailed information on mating, calving, production and the health of individual animals and has led to improvements in the ease and quality of decision making.

Dairy farmers are also becoming enthusiastic users of smartphones, particularly with the availability of “ruggedised” cases to protect them against the wet and dirty environment.

LIC is developing connections between these two technologies in the form of applications that allow farmers to enter data into their smartphones and have them immediately transmitted to their records in the MINDA database.

Rob Ford, General Manager Farm Systems for LIC, points out that the value of information retrieved from any software service such as MINDA is only as good as the information that is put into it. If farmers are relying on memory or written notes and then entering the information at the end of the day when they are finally back at the farmhouse and tired, errors can be a problem. It is also double handling of the data and having to deal with it only once would save time.

Not surprisingly, the first app to be available assists farm staff with calving where it should help save time and reduce stress.

“A lot of dairy farmers use the yellow notebook or write calving information on pieces of scrap paper, and then when they get back to the farmhouse they have to enter that data into the system. That’s a hassle, and we’ve looked at how we could speed up that process and how to use the smartphone platform to create a solution to do it,” says Rob. “The result is the new MINDA Calving app that will sit on a smartphone and allow farmers to enter the calving information quickly. It then uses the cellular network to send the data to the LIC system and create reports that are immediately available on the farm’s computer screen. It avoids having to enter the information twice, and provides simplicity and ease at that really pressured time.”

MINDA Calving has been developed in response to requests from farmers and has been trialled by a test group who have helped improve and fine tune it to the point where it does exactly what farmers wanted it to do, says Rob.

“It all ties nicely into the MINDA management information system and allows direct recording of calving date, cow and calf details etc,” he says. “It will be available free for download from the Apple store and from various Android download sites.”

Reece Croasdale is one of the farmers involved in testing the app, and says it is a great step forward for him. He milks 450 cows in a split herd with 200 autumn calvers.

“We received the app towards the end of calving and I have used it to record about 30 cows straight into the phone and through to MINDA. I put the yellow notebook aside and used only the app, which was a step of faith because when you write something in the notebook it feels that the information has been captured safely and you still have the hard copy, “ says Reece.

“I felt that typing something into the phone and trusting that it would appear on the computer was hard to do because the information is so important and I didn’t want to risk losing it. But it worked and I realised it was a lot easier. There was no double handling of the information.”

“Normally in the middle of calving you are up at 4am and flat out all day, and you could be recording 20 or 30 calvings a day and then having to enter them into the computer at night. If you have a large herd it could be a huge job, so it is much quicker to do it straight away on the phone and have it sent through to your MINDApro farm records online. That makes life a lot easier.”

Reece recorded basic information such as the cow number, the sex of the calf, single or twin, the herd number of the calf, if it was a heifer to be kept, whether or not the cow had milk fever or other health issues, and the amount of assistance, if any, that the cow was given during calving.

He says it took about the same amount of time to record on the phone as it would do writing in the yellow book, but the big saving in time was that he didn’t have to go back to the computer at the end of the day.

“Also it is probably more accurate. In the yellow notebook there are 20 numbers to a page and sometimes when you are tired you can make mistakes or misread something or type it in wrongly whereas if you’re in the paddock typing the number into your phone you have the cow and calf in front of you and are less likely to make mistakes. And you can make corrections online if you do make a mistake.”

Rob Ford says that the MINDA Calving app is the first of a number of apps being developed by LIC for customers. They include:

  • Animal details app that will allow farmers to call up details of a particular animal while they are out on the farm
  • Body condition score app
  • Stock movements app for when animals are moved to saleyards or to grazing blocks outside the NAIT zone
  • Health app enabling farmers to enter treatments of particular animals into the system
  • Pasture covers app for use with the ‘land and feed’ part of MINDA
  • Tagging app
  • Heat recording app
  • Pregnancy diagnosis app
  • Grazing app
  • Notes and reminders app

The calving app is compatible with the new second generation Protrack automatic drafting system, which Reece has just installed. The system has an improved graphic interface and a number of modules available as add-ons.

“All the information is available through our LED touchscreen monitor in the cowshed. We have a computer at the shed and one at home with wireless connections between them all so any information that we enter at home or at the cowshed or wherever is available at each location,” says Reece.

“That’s valuable because we have a split herd and different calving dates and with different drying-off dates, we are always drafting out cows throughout the year. It makes drafting so much easier, which adds to staff wellbeing. It also allows us to record health treatments, which is massive because if I’m ever out of the shed, I need to be certain that if any cow is being treated with penicillin etc there is no way antibiotic milk will go into the vat.”