The Role of Activity Monitors in the Changing Dairy Landscape

Published on Tue, 04/06/2021 - 12:33pm

The Role of Activity Monitors in the Changing Dairy Landscape.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 With each passing year, technology continues to improve. As we make way for the latest and greatest innovations, gadgets are become more affordable and commonplace. A prime example of this in dairy would be digital tools and software for farm and herd management.

Today’s activity monitors do a lot more than just track an animal’s movement. Now specific location, live health statistics and fertility data can be brought directly to a phone, tablet or computer in a matter of seconds.

Besides making life a bit easier, these innovations are helping set new standards for cow comfort, health and production. Where do some of these systems stand in the dairy industry today, and what will further or hinder their widespread adoption?

Increasing innovations
As much as saving labor and enhancing production is important, cow comfort is another industry metric frequently challenged by the public and become of greater significance in the dairy industry as we know it.

The American Dairy Association North East shared with PR Newswire in July 2020 how one New York farm is putting activity monitoring technology to work. In addition to having full sprinkler systems and cooling curtains, the farm had invested in a system that tracked each cow’s panting patterns. This helped pinpoint management to install additional shade in certain areas. As a result, the cows showed more favorable resting behavioral patterns.

One company changing the game as far as such technology is concerned is Nedap Livestock  Management. At the Central Plains Dairy Expo, Nedap showcased their Augmented Reality system to simplify farm data with cutting-edge, hands-free technology. Their system uses a set of mixed-reality goggles to find a cow’s exact location and show her information on a virtual cow card with verbal or finger commands. This is the first augmented reality setup to enter the dairy space.

The brand new Farmfit bolus by STgenetics is another taking monitoring to a whole new level. The bolus sits in the rumen of a cow or heifer and reports information to a collector which sends it to the cloud to be accessed via an app. This system is able to provides up-to-date health information including core body temperature and illness alerts. It also provides information on rumen health and characteristics.

Many different animal monitoring systems cite reporting accurate heat detection and other reproductive data directly to the farm. Besides increasing odds of pregnancy, this can also help save time and energy. As more health and reproduction-related data continues to be collected from farms, and companies pour money into technology development, it is likely there will be more accuracy and advancements moving forward.

Will widespread adoption be pushed or hindered?
Besides simply “getting with the times,” there are a plethora of reasons dairy continues to invest in more advanced technology. It’s capable of doing more than making things less labor intensive – in some cases adopting them may be necessary for survival in today’s changing world.

Specifically, reducing the need for labor is a primary example. The cost of hiring employees continues to rise both directly and indirectly. The political world continues to talk about changing minimum wages and the various costs of living and housing also continue to rise.

By bringing information directly to your fingertips, activity monitoring reduces the need to spend precious hours observing animals directly. Systems capable of locating cows directly reduce the need for both paid and unpaid labor to search pens for individuals.

Another thing that may encourage further adoption by dairy producers are the cow comfort and welfare implications – both of which are highly appealing to the public eye. A lot of dairy promotion goes into showcasing how farmers are using new and innovative ways to take care of animals by making serious investments. Besides obvious things, like upfront costs, there are other less subtle issues that could really inhibit wider on-farm implementation.

Rural broadband access continues to be a significant issue. Having reliable internet is a prerequisite for most dairy software, but there are other fine technicalities like connectivity, accessibility in different barns and withstanding the rugged dairy environment.There seems to be some work being done to improve this general situation, but the cost and barriers here are something that dairy farmers need to seriously consider.

Data security is a growing concern in the agriculture sector. The fact is, if you have any online presence or trust a company with any digital information, there is a degree of risk involved.

Ultimately, everything goes right down to the contracts agreed upon by the farmer and service provider. While some companies are becoming Ag Data Transparent certified — meaning they’ve pledged to abide by a list of principles in their contracts to provide their customers more clarity and peace of mind.

But again, everything comes down to reading contracts carefully and being willing to accept the risks of what might happen should your data ever be hacked or compromised.

Additional benefits
Worth the mention, moving to automated forms of dairy management may help alleviate some age-old dairy stressors. Farm families have long struggled with maintaining a healthy work life balance. Advanced software and systems are a solution to eliminate some of this while and promoting better mental health. Likewise, technology may play a key role helping farms cut back on antibiotic usage and enhance overall animal health.

Ready or not, activity monitoring technology continues to surge – in the future we may likely see it having a some on every dairy in some capacity.