Detection of health issues
Research shows that when cows experience change on a physiological level, behaviour changes as a result. Sensors that detect physiological changes, therefore, could be extremely useful in detecting health issues earlier. Sensors can be used, for example, to detect health issues, such as lameness, mastitis and ketosis. Access to this type of information helps producers prevent long-term yield loss and death. It also allows producers to make important decisions, such as whether or not to cull sick animals in order to prevent the spread of disease. Ultimately, though, early adopters value sensors as tools to maximise profit and improve cow welfare.
“From scientific research we know that lactation stage, lameness, and disease all affect cow behaviour”, Ms Thorup said. “We also know that cow behaviour can be measured automatically. Lactation stage, for example, impacts lying time. During the dry period, lying time amounts to 13 hours per day on average. However, during the four weeks post-calving that number drops to 10 hours per day on average”, according to Ms Thorup. She further explained how oestrus impacts cow behaviour as well. She said “Research shows that during oestrus, cows lying time drops by 41%. Similarly, the number of lying sessions drops by 50%, and rumination time drops by 60% on average. While feeding time declines by 79%, incredibly, the number of steps increases by 380%. Neck activity also increases by 219%. Using sensors to detect these parameters, therefore, should enable producers to determine when insemination is likely to be most effective”.
Efficacy can vary
Understandably, lameness also impacts cow behaviour. Research shows that the lying time of lame cows increases by 106 to 119%, and the number of lying sessions in lame cows increases by 103%. Lame cows, on average, take 95% fewer steps. Because movement declines so, too, does feeding. In fact, according to Ms Thorup, feeding time in lame cows by 60%, and rumination time drops by 99%. There are three types of sensors used to detect lameness, Ms Thorup explained. “The first is a walk over sensor that measures gait by taking symmetry, balance and speed into consideration. While each herd needs just one device, the cost of that device is high. When lameness is detected using a neck or ear-based sensor, one device per cow is required, which can also lead to hefty costs. Finally, lameness can be detected using a leg-based sensor to evaluate leg movement. Again, one device is required per cow”, said Ms Thorup. However, the problem is that efficacy varies from sensor to sensor, and the sheer number of sensors available today is overwhelming. Before making an investment, Ms Thorup recommends that farmers first determine the problem they’d like to address. The ideal technology, she continued, should explain the underlying biological process related to the challenge being addressed. More importantly, it should be possible to translate those measurements into meaningful actions. Ideally, said Ms Thorup, the sensor should be cost-effective, robust, reliable and precise. Finally, it should be simple and solution focused, she said.