Nov. 17, 2016

Collars monitor cow health, freeing up farmers' time

Cow collar
Robyn Wishna/Provided
Doctoral candidate Matías Stangaferro with a cow collar equipped with motion sensors to diagnose illness.

A Fitbit for cows?

Collars with tags that carry an accelerometer – the same technology used in the popular fitness-tracking device – are effective noninvasive tools for tracking the health of dairy cows, according to Cornell research.

The device, which holds a two-inch tag, provides continuous monitoring of movements and rumination, two activities that occur in a natural rhythm in healthy cows.

“When the animal is affected by a health disorder, that rhythm and physiology is altered, and they move less,” said Julio Giordano, assistant professor of animal science and senior author of three papers published this summer in the Journal of Dairy Science that analyzed the effectiveness of such automated health-monitoring systems. “To monitor these behaviors, you would have to have a person checking the cows at least once a day. Technology has provided a means to do that automatically.”

Data collection is done through Wi-Fi from the device to a computer.

An algorithm is used to combine parameters of rumination and activity levels to generate a health index, with a healthy cow receiving a score of 100. When the index falls below a threshold of 86, farmers know they should check those cows for potential health issues, such as metabolic and digestive disorders, mastitis (inflammation of the udder, often due to infection) and metritis (inflammation of the uterus wall).

“It doesn’t eliminate the need for a physical exam, but what it does eliminate is the need to look at every single cow. You can just focus on the cow that needs attention, where there is an indication of a problem,” Giordano said.

Use of these devices has been growing among dairy farmers, Giordano said.

“These tools improve the health and welfare of dairy cows and the labor efficiency and quality of life of dairy producers. It works for both the cows and people,” Giordano said.