Cows in FitBits

cows wear FitbitsBy Pamela Selz-Pralle
Pamela and her husband, Scott, operate a 400-cow dairy farm in Clark County, Wisconsin. Their families have been farming for more than a century.

Like many moms, I care about fitness. A healthy body = a healthy life. I feel the same about my cows. That’s why my cows wear Fitbits.

OK, so not exactly Fitbits – but similar electronic devices, called SCR systems, worn around their ankles or necks. Much like the fitness trackers people wear, these devices provide data about the cow’s activity level, milk production and other health measurementsI am concerned about my herd’s health and reproduction, so by tracking activity and digestion of each cow, I’m able to provide immediate cow care based on her needs. I simply point an electronic reader – much like a wand – at a cow wearing this device, and all her data is in the palm of my hand.

Monitoring Movement, Milk and Meals

The SCR device tracks each cow’s individual activity and rumination, or digestion, creating a baseline average. If she deviates, we are alerted, and perform a physical exam. Often, the SCR catches a problem before we see clinical signs. That’s health care at its finest! We know that immediate care maintains a cow’s milk production and keeps her stress-free.

So what changes a cow’s activity? Often, a change in rumination activity can indicate that a cow is having stomach issues. If the stomach is happy, the cow is happy, so we make sure that every mouthful of feed is perfectly balanced. Like chefs, we are very careful about food preparation, checking everything from protein to moisture level. Our nutritionist visits weekly to make sure the menus we serve to our cows are balanced perfectly. We are particular about mixing in vitamins and minerals along with their alfalfa hay and corn. Much like you may try to trick your 5-year-old into eating his peas, we mix these ingredients in a huge mix-master, so the cows have better-balanced diets than most people.

The birthing process, known as “calving,” can be a stressful time in a cow’s life. By monitoring activity, data from the SCR tool helps me to predict when she will give birth so I can assist in the birthing and make sure that her calf is safe and warm when it enters the world.

Like with humans, early detection is key.

We only give cows medicine when it’s needed, and the activity trackers help us make that determination. Early detection means I can use alternatives to antibiotics to make her feel better.

We are passionate about taking care of our animals, and the insights gathered from SCR devices allow us take cow care to another level. No matter the herd size, we manage them one cow at a time. SCR technology helps us to be more responsive and pro-active to make sure we have healthy cows.

If you want to know more about the health trackers or how we take care of the cows on our farm, please leave your questions and comments below, and let’s keep the conversation going.

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