Ease of Mind with smaXtec

Published on Mon, 03/20/2023 - 10:48am

Ease of Mind with smaXtec.

 By Maura Keller.

 Tucked in the Southeast area of Minnesota, outside of the quaint rural town of Altura, MN, lies Pine-Vue Farms. Owners Sheldon Luehmann and his wife, Karli, purchased her parents’ herd of dairy cattle in October 2021.

“We are the fourth generation to milk on this farm. Our herd size consists of 125 milking cows and we raise all of our own replacement heifers and grow our own feed,” says Sheldon Luehmann. “When we began our adventure as dairy farmers, we did not have a herd monitoring system; simply put we were the ‘monitors.’”

The Luehmann family became interested in installing a monitoring system but just didn’t know which one to select. They did their due diligence and researched different brands and companies and talked to other farmers who had installed different systems on their farms.

“The systems seemed like they all would do the job of improving the herd’s reproduction, but we were still unsure, so we headed to World Dairy Expo with open minds, ready to learn and make a decision on a system for our herd,” Luehmann says. “That is where we learned about the smaXtec system and how many more things that this system could do for our herd than just improve the reproduction.”

smaXtec began as a Ph.D. project about 15 years ago, with the original vision of conveniently monitoring the pH of a cow’s rumen during nutrition research without having to take samples from fistulate cows. The company’s SX2 is the latest product generation and boasts two different bolus options. The “Classic” bolus is the main product and monitors inner body temperature, drinking behavior, rumination and activity 24/7. The pH bolus additionally monitors rumen pH values.  

Indeed, the measurement of inner body temperature is the heart of the health system that smaXtec offers. With 24/7 temperature monitoring of individual cows, smaXtec watches each cow’s temperature, which is measured precisely with a relative accuracy of 0.018 °F. When her temperature deviates from normal, the producer (or their employee) receives a temperature alert based on if her temperature went up or down.  

When evaluating the best system for their herd, the Luehmann’s number one issue was reproduction.

“We breed the cows ourselves and we don’t have a herdsman, so before we began using smaXtec I would always be stressed out in whatever I was doing, knowing that I needed to get back to the barn to be watching for cows starting to be in heat,” Luehmann says. “Our pregnancy rates were low and not improving much month after month, which started to really stretch out the herd days in milk and we were still trying to get cows pregnant long after they peaked in milk production. We began being more and more aggressive with our offsync breeding, and while that was working and improving things, it also had its drawbacks. While we did start to see more cows getting pregnant, the big slug of cows freshening in a narrow time window can be a management challenge with the ‘fresh’ cows and baby calves. With that many more cows in heat at the same time in the barn, we started to have cows slipping and doing the splits or just getting injured more often and we were losing a lot more cows than we should’ve been.”

Pine-Vue Farms began using the smaXtec system in November 2022. Prior to using smaXtec, they were breeding about 85% off of the offsync shots and 15% off natural observed heats. Since using smaXtec, they have switched to 85% off of natural heats and only 15% from the offsync shots.

“Our pregnancy rates have improved dramatically, the herd’s days in milk average is improving, and we are having fewer cows getting injured in the barn. For the system to pick up exactly when a cow starts to come into her heat by monitoring her activity and rumination and giving us a timeline of when is the proper time to breed her, it has really taken the guess work out of it for us,” Luehmann says.

Timing really is everything for today’s dairy producers. While the reproductive features are beneficial, the early disease detection and health alerts are particularly helpful for Luehmann. With the inner body temperature of each cow constantly being monitored, the Luehmanns can know when a cow is going to be sick or have mastitis about two or three days before they can visually see something wrong in the barn or in the parlor.

“It has been much easier to deal with cows having a tough transition after freshening by getting ahead of the symptoms and being able to use more natural remedies for things instead of antibiotics, which results in dumping milk,” Luehmann says.

He also points out that knowing how much water a cow drinks in a day helps Pine-Vue Farms determine if that slow transitioning cow needs to be drenched or not.

“We pride ourselves on a low somatic cell counts (SCC), usually running around a 70,000 and with the smaXtec system it has actually helped us drop that down to consistently being 55,000 or lower,” Luehmann says. “When a cow throws a high temp alert, it is her body’s natural immune system trying to fight whatever it is.”

The first milking after seeing a temp alert, Luehmann runs a CMT paddle test on that cow and usually she has a quarter flaring up, which, when left alone, could easily turn into mastitis.

“By knowing ahead of time that she has a flare up, we can quarter bucket that milk, udder mint that quarter, and give the cow some probiotics to help her body fight it more naturally,” Luehmann says. “Nine times out of 10, that flare up settles down before it turns into mastitis.”

The calving alerts of the smaXtec system also have been particularly beneficial to Pine-Vue Farms and are proving to be extremely accurate. Being able to know 10 to 12 hours before a cow is going to calve allows Luehmann to put that cow in the calving pen and keep a closer eye on her.

“Almost every single time, just like clockwork, the cow will have her calf 10 to 12 hours after throwing that calving alert,” Luehmann says. “In the few short months of having the system, we have saved a few calves by knowing when that calf is supposed to be born and when we need to help that cow have the calf if she is taking too long past that 12-hour warning time.”

While Sheldon and Karli Luehmann have only been dairy farming for less than two years and are still learning themselves, they advise other producers interested in smaXtec to do their own research and get out there and talk to other farmers to see what is working for them.

“The smaXtec system has really taken the guess work out of a lot of day-to-day decisions and actions on the farm. I am no longer always stressed or anxious, thinking that I need to get to the barn to watch and observe the cows for heats or health issues,” Luehmann says. “We were in Mexico on our honeymoon in January, keeping a close eye on the cows from the beach, sending messages back to the guys doing the work for us about which cows to breed and what time, and when a cow needed to be moved to the calving pen. The system has really improved our quality of life and we are able to relax a little bit knowing that we have a 24/7/365 observation of our cows.”