Moooving Towards Cow-Savvy Technology

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In the last several years technology has become essential to everyday life. The dairy industry, however, has been using technology to improve animal care for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I always joked with my parents that our cows would get cable TV before we did because we were always investing in new technology to improve the lives of our cows while we watched the same three channels even though the rest of the world had moved on to flat screen TV’s and Netflix (true story!). Looking back, this was because by taking care of our cows, our cows took care of us.

Dairy farmers use technology to keep their cows comfortable while also making their farms more efficient. Technology allows us to care for cows in new and exciting ways. From back-scratchers to fitbits, technology improves animal care on dairy farms!

Fitbit for cows

Dairy farmers often use fitbit-like technology to monitor the health of each cow. Cows can wear these monitors around their neck, or on their ankles.

The monitors deliver information like what I get every day from my fitbit, and more. They not only monitor resting and current heart rate, steps taken, miles walked and hours slept, but how many times a cow swallows and a slew of other information that I can use to measure physical fitness and health.

Farmers use this technology to gauge the health of their animals. Farmers can tell when cows are sick before they show any clinical signs of illness, when cows are in heat and need to be bred and when cows are experiencing stress and need additional attention.

Dairy cows wearing pedometers
Dairy cows often wear collars or anklets that collect detailed information about their health!

Sensors

Sensors monitor the cows’ environment. Cows are milked with a machine that gently massages milk out of the udder, and sensors can be placed in those machines to detect any malfunction before the equipment actually begins to fail. Keeping this equipment running smoothly prevents it from harming the cows during the milking process.

Curtains cover the walls of many barns so heat can be retained. Many dairy farms use sensor technology to move the curtains up and down according to the temperature outside. This keeps the airflow and temperature inside perfect for the cows. Cow cooling techniques like fans and sprinklers also use sensor technology.

Fans, Sprinklers and Cow Cooling Galore

Cows have a higher internal body temperature than humans at about 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of their warm bodies, cows prefer weather between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, what do farmers do to keep their cows comfortable in the hot summer months?

Cow cooling is a science based best-practice that says if we keep our cows cool and comfortable, they are happier, healthier and they produce more milk!

Some examples of cow cooling include fans, sprinklers and soakers. Fans circulate the air, sprinklers provide small mists of cool water when cows are around and soakers deliver a direct stream of water for the cows to play and cool off in. They can also turn on when the temperature hits a certain threshold, or are triggered by motion sensors that indicate a cow is nearby. The sprinklers and soakers use recycled water from other areas of the farm!

Give a little to those you love

For my parents 21st wedding anniversary they bought an automatic spinning brush for our cows. It’s mounted on a wall that the cows walk by on their way to and from the milking parlor, and anytime one of them brushes up against it, it turns on and spins. They absolutely love using it; there’s often a line of cows waiting to use it after each milking!

Automatic cow brush
Automatic back-scratching brushes keep cows clean and happy!

This kind of thing happens on dairy farms all the time. Some people find it strange that my parents didn’t get something more traditional for their anniversary like an exotic vacation, or even just a vacation. But to them, this was just as good. Watching the cows come up and use their new toy has become one of the highlights of my days at the farm and our farm tours. So, we still don’t have cable TV (although we did finally get Netflix), but we continue to invest in our cows’ comfort and we are all the better for that.

Stay tuned for another blog about how dairy farms use robot technology to improve animal care!

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