Farm technology: Fitbits for cows
Better health monitoring of ‘connected cows’
People have been wearing Fitbits and other health monitoring devices for years, and now it’s the next big thing for our national dairy herd. Cow wearables, such as ear sensors and collars, are increasingly being used on New Zealand dairy farms to help monitor and manage animal performance, health and fertility. Manawatu dairy farmer Jared Whittfield has been using Cowmanager’s ear sensor technology since the start of May to monitor his herd. Although the technology looks like a standard ear tag seen on every dairy cow across the country, it delivers key insights to farmers 24/7 to bring them one step closer to their cows. “One of the main benefits of these ear tags is early detection of problems,” he says. “You receive a health alert when a cow isn’t her usual self, and from there you can quickly diagnose the problem. It’s great from a herd productivity perspective because it means you’re picking up issues much earlier, or even identifying issues that might never have been picked up.” Whittfield, who milks 1000 cows on his 250ha farm in Moutoa in the Manawatu region, says it was easier to know each cow when herds were smaller. “When you’re milking 50 cows, it’s not hard to see if one is having a bad day, but when you have 1000, that’s a very different task. With cow wearable devices, you get that same level of connection to your cows again. “Not only can you monitor individual cows, but you can also get a sense of how your herd is performing overall by looking at cows at different ages and stages of lactation and identifying whether there are any trends.” Herd improvement and agritech co-op LIC has recently released a new development in its cloud-based herd management system, MINDA (via its app), to help Kiwi farmers unlock more value from cow wearable devices and further support the “connected cow” future of the New Zealand dairy industry. The new application will enable valuable data captured from cow wearable devices to join the rest of the animal’s records in MINDA to provide farmers with a one-stop-shop for their animal data. Before the application was available, Whittfield was having to do a daily transfer of data. “The fact that these tags are now able to link up with MINDA means there’s no double handling of data, which saves time on farm and ensures that you have access to all the data you need in one centralised place.” Malcolm Ellis, LIC’S general manager of NZ Markets, says data is key to driving the next wave of productivity and sustainability improvements for the industry. “In this era of a stabilising cow population and increased environmental and regulatory considerations, there has never been a more important time for farmers to be focussed on improving the quality of cows in their herd,” he says. “Knowing more about your cows and having access to these insights to make informed herd management decisions is a key driver.” Ellis says enabling data flow between MINDA, which is used by 10,500 dairy farmers, and third-party cow wearable devices has been hotly requested by farmers. “We are seeing an increased uptake in cow wearable technology from our farmers so it’s great to now be able to offer them more value from their investment with improved access to data and insights.” Ellis says everything LIC is doing in the technology space is focused on deepening farmers’ connection to their cows. “Tech is the future for many industries, but much of the value lies in integration. We’ll continue to investigate opportunities where we can partner with others in the tech sector to deliver to farmers’ needs and unlock more value for our farmers.” Cow wearable devices from Cowmanager, Datamars and Allflex (via Protrack) can integrate with MINDA, with others expected on board including Afimilk and GEA Cow Scout.