Dairy herds – the moooove to wearable technology

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The Fitbit has been around for over a decade now, in that time it’s been encouraging humans to be more active and has no doubt helped to improve the health of millions. In more recent years the smartwatch has taken a fair chunk of the fitness tracking market (to the detriment of Fitbit’s share price) but there’s a growing market for fitness wearables… the customers have four legs and four stomachs.

Researchers at Tarleton State University’s SW Regional Dairy Center in Stephenville, Texas, have recently been trialling Fitbit-like devices on cow herds. These bovine wearables enable the team at TSU to track the day to day activities of each cow in the herd – from time spent eating and sleeping to steps taken and even total milk yield.

Much like you might use a Fitbit to monitor your steps to improve your health, we use Fitbits here with our cows to monitor their health and day to day behaviour” says Dr Barbara Jones, Director of Tarleton State University, SW Regional Dairy Center.

Dr Barbara Jones, Director of Tarleton State University, SW Regional Dairy Center.

We have two Fitbits on every cow, one tracks how much milk she gives each time we milk her… another tracks eating time per day, how many times per day cows chew their cud and the total number of steps taken

Faster Disease Recognition

Dairy farmers are apparently not that good at picking up on illness signals in cows and equally cows are not very good at communicating their ailments either. By using wearable technology and regularly monitoring the data, a small change in behaviour by a specific cow – perhaps more time spent lying down, can trigger an alert for a farmer to go check on a specific animal. This could help to resolve any health issues sooner rather than later, which obviously benefits the cow as much as the farmer.

Indian Start-Up – Stellapps Technologies

Over in India the cow is considered to be a sacred animal, more milk is consumed there than in any other country in the world. Half a billion Indian people work in farming, and in modern India technological solutions are equally within their grasp (like the KisanRaja autonomous irrigation solution we covered recently). One Indian dairy farming technology start-up is Stellapps Technologies – a company that has many investors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (to the tune of $14 million). It seems Stellapps recognised the potential benefits of bovine wearables some time ago and invented a device called the ‘mooOn‘.

Ovulation tracking alerts

Just like the folks at Tarleton State University in the US, cows belonging to mooOn subscribers wear a device to enable activity tracking – the same indicators of total steps and time spent sleeping are monitored. With three times more milk drunk in India than in the United States one can see how a move to dairy herd fitness tracking might already be a few steps ahead of the US. Indeed the mooOn already tracks ovulation (which only lasts half a day in cows) alerts can automatically be sent to farmers or vets to notify them that insemination is urgently required.

MooOn – dairy farm management app

Rivals – Cowlar

A rival start-up in nearby Pakistan called ‘Cowlar‘ has been trading for a number of years. Cowlar offers a similar dairy tracking smart collar. Extra features include ‘feed optimization’ – a farmer can monitor each cow’s temperature, activity & behaviour including rumination. Based on that information Cowlar is able to let dairy farmers compare their cow’s performance with the feed intake. This helps dairy farmers to choose and optimize cow feed and balance their herd’s health, milk & reproductive performance.

A step too far? ‘The Mootrix’ – Virtual Reality (VR) headsets for cows

You would be forgiven for thinking that the benefits of dairy herd wearables have probably been exhausted in the US, India and Pakistan… but in Russia they have other ideas. In late 2019 the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (for the Moscow Region) reported that researchers had placed VR headsets on cattle. Yes really.

These specially tailored headsets run a custom-built VR simulation of a calming green field. However, apparently cows see the color red significantly better than other colors and this information was factored into the design of the virtual experience, perhaps it’s a calming red field?

photo credit: msh.mosreg.ru

During the first test, experts recorded a decrease in anxiety and an increase in the overall emotional mood of the herd,” reported the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

Sensible readers might be wondering why a Russian farmer wouldn’t just place a dairy herd in a lovely green field to begin with, rather than plugging cows into the Mootrix. The many benefits offered by cow fitbits and smart collars seem obvious for both human and animal but the potential benefit of virtual reality cow headsets is lost on this slightly concerned writer.

Tarleton State University’s SW Regional Dairy Center and dairy herd fitbits:

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About Author

mm

Matt has worked in digital publishing for twenty years, holding management positions at Nature (nature.com) and William Reed Business Media (foodmanufacture.co.uk, thegrocer.co.uk etc). He has also worked with Wiley Interscience, The IET, Centaur Publishing and BBC Worldwide. Since 2010 Matt has been a digital consultant working with B2B media & event companies in the agricultural, automotive, aviation and technology sectors. His private passion is growing his own food (on three allotments) and chasing the dream of a one tonne giant pumpkin. He is a member of the British Garden Media Guild and was a finalist in the Garden Media Guild Awards 'blog of the year' category in 2018 and 2019.

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