Dairy cows close up

WEATHERFORD, Texas (AP) — Researchers at Tarleton State University's Southwest Regional Dairy Center in Stephenville, Texas, are using devices similar to Fitbits to track the health habits of dairy cows.

The researchers say tracking a cow's eating, sleeping and movement helps them take better care of the animals, according to a press release from the Texas A&M University System. The devices track how long cows eat, how long they lay down and how many steps they take, while another wearable device monitors how much milk each cow gives.

“We have two Fitbits on every cow,” Southwest Regional Dairy Center Director Barbara Jones said in the release. “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.”

The data can warn producers that a cow may be sick before the cow starts showing symptoms. The devices also free up time for dairy producers, who can tend to other business instead of monitoring their herd visually.

Parker County Ag Extension Agent Jay Kingston said the wearable devices could have multiple benefits for dairy cows and farmers.

“Being able to track the health status of each and every cow with actual data and not just the ‘eye test’ will go a long way in identifying health issues earlier and provide more immediate care,” Kingston said. “This, in turn, will help lower costs for medical care and increase the production time for the cow. In my experiences, farmers and ranchers take animal health and care very seriously. This is another tool they can use to do that better.”

Former dairy farmer Tuck Densmore, who is also in charge of the dairy show division at the Parker County livestock show, said a dairy cow's health can depend on its environment. To keep cows healthy, their environment needs to be clean, and quality feed needs be provided.

Dairy farmers usually determine a cow's health by looking at it, Densmore said. Sickness in dairy cows can affect the milk if the cow has a fever.

About 10% of dairy farmers use wearable technology now, but as labor costs rise, more dairy producers are expected to take the technological leap, Jones said.