Monday, April 22, 2024

Renewed passion for dairying

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Dairy farmers using the Halter technology are finding they generally have more time, giving them the freedom of choice.
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Ask a dairy farmer what brought them to the industry, and they will often say it is a love of working outdoors, being their own boss, enjoying working with animals or working to achieve measurable goals every day, every season.

For many, it is likely a combination of all those and more.

But ask what they would like more of, and it is likely one answer will be more hours in the day. That may be to work more ‘on’ their business rather than ‘in’ it, to spend more time with family and friends or to pursue other interests off-farm.

It may also often be simply to rediscover what it was that made them passionate about dairying in the first place.

Waikato-based agritech company Halter is delivering on its promise to unlatch dairy farmers from the daily grind of sitting behind herds heading to milking, setting up breaks or shutting gates at the end of a long day.

The solar-powered GPS-enabled collars mean a herd can be managed from a smartphone, and now early adopting farmers are starting to recognise the opportunities the technology is delivering them on a personal and professional level.

Herd owners with Halter technology are reporting a new lease of life in their dairying careers, with the tech unlocking time that can be spent with family, off the farm pursuing another interest, or more constructively at home improving on-farm performance.

Halter means trained cows are no longer confined with physical fences, with the technology holding them within “virtual” paddocks, defined on a digital farm map. Scheduling stock movements like milking times and break shifts has eliminated the chore of having to be on-farm at set times to make those routines a reality.

Early feedback from farm clients indicates they are saving 20 hours a week by simply eliminating the amount of time spent on the farm bike behind cows and setting up breaks in between milkings.

For Te Awamutu dairy farmer Pete Morgan, with two 300-cow herds all fitted with Halter collars, the tech shift has given him a new lease of life later in his successful dairying career.

He and his wife Ann farm on a challenging property, with multiple dips and gullies lined with sensitive wetland areas. Equipping the herd with Halter means grazing blocks can be defined to skirt around those sensitive areas needing a wider boundary.

Grazing can be optimised by setting up virtual breaks with far more precise square metre per cow allocation. On a two-herd farm constrained by gullies, sidlings and a long 4km profile, achieving optimum pasture use has always been challenging.

“You may have a paddock and know it’s actually 10% bigger than what you need, but more often than not you will just go with it, given location, labour and time to allocate the exact amount is too difficult,” Pete says.

Optimal grazing is now helping the Morgans extract the most out of their System 2 property, meeting the challenge of improved profitability while further protecting the environment they farm within.

For Pete, Halter has also meant after 30-plus years of getting up early to head to the back of the farm to get the cows, he can now have a half-hour lie in. This is while knowing Halter has got the cows out of the paddock to the dairy shed using a sophisticated guidance system, to have them waiting for him to show up and milk them.

Halter’s technology overcame three key obstacles in its development: developing algorithms for individual cow guidance; having a robust solar-powered collar; and having the ability for collars to communicate near constant data flows regardless of terrain.

The collars, via real-time GPS location tracking, keep cows within their ‘break’, with scheduled shifts also signalled via sounds to guide them in the desired direction.

While appearing uncanny in their effect, the sounds are simply an advance on typical animal responses to learned sounds, just as cows respond with learned behaviour to other sounds like a reel being wound up, or a silage laden wagon and tractor approaching.

Farmers investing in Halter tech also have the reassurance they will not be left with redundant technology as the system advances. The Halter collars can be updated remotely as software is updated, and collars are subscribed to, rather than purchased by the farmer.

Farmers like Pete are now reimagining their farm layout as a blank slate, pulling out physical fences and grazing cows in a way better matching the farm’s physical layout.

In the meantime, it is also giving them time to also reimagine their farm business. They have more time to focus on helping develop staff, sharing grazing plans via Halter’s app and providing a transparent platform for those staff to know what the plan is, and to have input into it.

Farmers using Halter report a calmer feel about their farming operation, often the farm bike is virtually made redundant, while cows are more relaxed without the pressure of the bike or the dog behind them.

More: Farmers wanting to view Halter tech in action can book via the company website for an approved visit to the company’s Morrinsville test farm.

Halter staff will be onsite at this year’s Fieldays at site E82 in the Dairy Precinct.

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