Main content area

An ex ante analysis on the use of activity meters for automated estrus detection: To invest or not to invest?

Rutten, C.J., Steeneveld, W., Inchaisri, C., Hogeveen, H.
Journal of dairy science 2014 v.97 no.11 pp. 6869-6887
calves, calving interval, capital, conception rate, cows, dairy farming, dairy herds, dry period (lactation), economic impact, estrus detection, ex ante analysis, farmers, farms, feed intake, income, labor, milk production, profitability, reproductive performance, simulation models
The technical performance of activity meters for automated detection of estrus in dairy farming has been studied, and such meters are already used in practice. However, information on the economic consequences of using activity meters is lacking. The current study analyzes the economic benefits of a sensor system for detection of estrus and appraises the feasibility of an investment in such a system. A stochastic dynamic simulation model was used to simulate reproductive performance of a dairy herd. The number of cow places in this herd was fixed at 130. The model started with 130 randomly drawn cows (in a Monte Carlo process) and simulated calvings and replacement of these cows in subsequent years. Default herd characteristics were a conception rate of 50%, an 8-wk dry-off period, and an average milk production level of 8,310kg per cow per 305 d. Model inputs were derived from real farm data and expertise. For the analysis, visual detection by the farmer (“without” situation) was compared with automated detection with activity meters (“with” situation). For visual estrus detection, an estrus detection rate of 50% and a specificity of 100% were assumed. For automated estrus detection, an estrus detection rate of 80% and a specificity of 95% were assumed. The results of the cow simulation model were used to estimate the difference between the annual net cash flows in the “with” and “without” situations (marginal financial effect) and the internal rate of return (IRR) as profitability indicators. The use of activity meters led to improved estrus detection and, therefore, to a decrease in the average calving interval and subsequent increase in annual milk production. For visual estrus detection, the average calving interval was 419 d and average annual milk production was 1,032,278kg. For activity meters, the average calving interval was 403 d and the average annual milk production was 1,043,398kg. It was estimated that the initial investment in activity meters would cost €17,728 for a herd of 130 cows, with an additional cost of €90 per year for the replacement of malfunctioning activity meters. Changes in annual net cash flows arising from using an activity meter included extra revenues from increased milk production and number of calves sold, increased costs from more inseminations, calvings, and feed consumption, and reduced costs from fewer culled cows and less labor for estrus detection. These changes in cash flows were caused mainly by changes in the technical results of the simulated dairy herds, which arose from differences in the estrus detection rate and specificity between the “with” and “without” situations. The average marginal financial effect in the “with” and “without” situations was €2,827 for the baseline scenario, with an average IRR of 11%. The IRR is a measure of the return on invested capital. Investment in activity meters was generally profitable. The most influential assumptions on the profitability of this investment were the assumed culling rules and the increase in sensitivity of estrus detection between the “without” and the “with” situation.