‘Fitbit’ tags track cows as they walk and chew

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Collars with tags that carry an accelerometer—the same technology that’s in your Fitbit—are effective noninvasive tools for tracking the health of dairy cows, research shows.

The device, which holds a two-inch tag, provides continuous monitoring of movements and rumination, two activities that occur in a natural rhythm in healthy cows.

“When the animal is affected by a health disorder, that rhythm and physiology is altered, and they move less,” says Julio Giordano, assistant professor of animal science at Cornell University and senior author of three papers (part 1, part 2, part 3) in the Journal of Dairy Science that analyze the effectiveness of such automated health-monitoring systems.

“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.”

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Data collection occurs via WiFi from the device to a computer. An algorithm combines parameters of rumination and activity levels to generate a health index, with a healthy cow receiving a score of 100. When the index falls below a threshold of 86, farmers know they should check those cows for potential health issues, such as metabolic and digestive disorders, mastitis (inflammation of the udder, often due to infection), and metritis (inflammation of the uterus wall).

“It doesn’t eliminate the need for a physical exam, 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,” Giordano says.

Use of these devices has been growing among dairy farmers, Giordano says.

“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,” Giordano says.

Source: Cornell University