Fitbits for cows: A&M researcher milks new technology for higher yields, happier cows

STEPHENVILLE (October 16, 2019) — More than half of Americans now track their daily activities with some kind of wearable device in an effort to stay healthy.

In the future, so will most dairy cows.

Researchers at Tarleton State University’s Southwest Regional Dairy Center in Stephenville say that digitally tracking diary cows’ eating, sleeping and other movements helps them take better care of the herd they milk three times a day.

“We have two fitbits on every cow,” said Dr. Barbara Jones, director of the largest university dairy operation in the Southwest. “They help us to monitor their health, and to keep them content. And that matters to us because we truly do care about cows, as all producers do.”

One of the wearable devices monitors how long the cows eat, how long they lay down or how many steps they take. The other is networked with the milk parlor, allowing researchers to track precisely how much milk each of the cows give.

The data alerts dairy producers when a cow may not be feeling well, before she shows it, allowing them to segregate the ill cow for treatment.

It also frees up time for dairy producers, who can tend to other business instead of monitoring their herd visually.

Only about 10 percent of dairy farmers use wearable technology now. But as labor costs rise, you can expect more dairy producers to take the technological leap, Jones said.

“The research we do here helps to make sure the cows stay content and happy,” Jones said. “That not only benefits the animal, it makes life easier for the producer, and allows them to make better decisions on the farm.”


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