Animals

Cows Rigged with 'FitBits' Help Farmers Budget Their Time

WiFi-enabled monitors pinpoint cows in poor health without the need to examine an entire herd.

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In a kind of "Fitbit for cows" approach, researchers at Cornell University have found that dairy cows tricked out with accelerometers are easy for busy farmers to monitor for health problems without the need to examine all cows individually.

The scientists tested WiFi-enabled collars fitted with motion sensors that continually monitored cows' physical movements for clues that they might be having problems such as an infection or digestive trouble.

Using the system, only cows that might have health problems - evidenced by lessened movement - triggered alerts.

"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," said Julio Giordano, lead author of the studies and an assistant professor of animal science at Cornell, in a statement.

Cornell doctoral candidate Matías Stangaferro displays a cow collar equipped with motion sensors to diagnose illness. Credit: Robyn Wishna/Provided

"It doesn't eliminate the need for a physical exam," he added, "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."

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To get a workable system, the researchers devised an algorithm that matches a cow's activity level with its potential for having a health problem. Each cow is assigned an index number based on its latest reading from the monitor. An index number in a worrisome range spurs an alert on a computer.

"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," said Giordano.

The Cornell scientists have outlined their findings in a series of articles published in the Journal of Dairy Science.

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