Photo by Philip Gruber The Kunkels milk 220 cows.

If a single picture is worth a thousand words, just think of all the dairy questions that can be answered with the volumes of information that time-lapse videos provide.

Are cows getting enough rest? Do they habitually run out of feed? Is the feed being distributed evenly across a feed bunk?

“I think some of the advantages of time-lapse video is you can view a day in the life of a cow in several minutes,” John Tyson, a Penn State Extension educator, said during last month’s Technology Tuesday webinar.

“This allows you to notice trends, problems and possibly solutions,” he said. “It also removes the influence of the observer’s behavior.”

Todd Franz, regional sales manager for Diamond V, said he uses time-lapse photography to monitor feed consumption and cow behavior.

He installs hunting cameras with enough storage capacity to hold two weeks of images. When using cameras, Franz recommends a minimum of three days but prefers a week with the camera set to record at 10-second intervals.

The time-lapse videos tell stories about how the cows behave in response to feed delivery and push up, Franz said. If a farmer discovers a set of feed-related health issues, time-lapse videos can help find the source of the problem.

Sometimes, it’s related to a specific location. Cows are territorial, he said. They will not move to another location at the feed bunk if feed runs out in their preferred area.

The record length of time he’s seen for cows without feed was 13 hours in one video, Franz said. However, the average is four to eight hours — typically at night at farms with feed-management issues.

Cows should have regular access to feed. If they go without too long, they will make up for it by eating aggressively for longer periods.

Franz also evaluates feed refusal rates and feeding times in relationship to parlor events.

He described one video that documented a group of cows that lacked enough interest to leave their pens in response to fresh feed.

The barn was overcrowded and the cows valued their stall space more than the new feed, Franz said. He recommended the farm change the time when the feed was delivered to help encourage the cows to head to the feed bunk.

Dorothy Pastor, a regional sales manager at Diamond V, said time-lapse videos can provide plenty of information, but if the information doesn’t get down to the farm gate, it’s not very valuable.

Dan McFarland, a Penn State Extension ag engineer, said he has used time-lapse videos to monitor how cows are affected by their housing.

In one study, the videos showed the cows using their stalls a lot more after the bedding levels were changed.

The farmer was surprised to see all of the cows lying down in one photo. “He never saw that before,” McFarland said.

Farmers tend to walk their barns about the same time every day, he said. Videos “give you a 24-hour view of the farm by day and by night.”

McFarland warned against overstocking a barn. A video of a farm that was 41 percent overstocked showed how aggressive the cows became as they tried to lie down.

Cows spend a large part of their day lying down. If they do not have adequate space, their milk production suffers.

One study showed that stocking a barn at more than 120 percent costs a farmer 12 pounds of milk per cow per day.

Tyson said he has used time-lapse photography to troubleshoot heat abatement and grouping problems in dairy barns.

In one instance, the cows were bunching in a relatively new dairy barn, and the farmer could not understand what drove them to abandon half of the barn.

Tyson installed cameras. After observing the cows’ behavior, he and the farmer relocated fans to create an artificial breeze and the bunching eased.

Franz said many farmers are adding time-lapse cameras when building new barns. He recommends they select one that is easy to use and produces videos that can be viewed quickly.


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