Smarter Tools

02:16AM Feb 24, 2014

Use of mobile technology and advanced apps can improve the way your cows are managed

Knowledge is power. For the dairy industry, knowledge comes through production data and record keeping that can give dairy operations power in decision-making.

Harnessing all the data that can be collected from a single cow is a daunting task. But with the advent of mobile-based technology, the job is getting easier.

"Mobile device technology has exploded in the last decade," says Mark Kinsel, CEO of AgriMetrica. "It is amazing how much power we have in these devices. It is getting better and better."

Smartphones are the primary tool people think of when it comes to handheld technology. Besides offering the standard communication of phone calls, texting and checking email, smartphones have opened up a brave new world with mobile applications (apps).

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"There are a whole host of different things you can do with mobile devices," Kinsel adds. "What do these apps do? Well, the most simple thing is calculators."

Kinsel’s company specializes in creating apps for dairy operations, such as on-farm scoring apps for body condition, manure, locomotion or teat ends.

"One of our goals as a company is to create products so that you don’t have to write," Kinsel says. "You should be able to tap on a phone and have it generate reports. Computers are very good at collecting data and summarizing it into reports. We want producers to focus on decision making.

"Let the device and computer servers do the data collection and processing so you can focus on the interpretation into decisions," he adds.

For instance, mobile devices allow farmers to enter the data into the server immediately, rather than having to write it down and then later go back to a computer where the data is entered. The apps that are now offered also make the prospects of losing data less frightful with the advent of cloud-based storage.

"The idea is that you’re able to have the server do the heavy lifting and process the data, and the device is collecting the data," Kinsel relates.

A smartphone’s screen size and interface—the point of interaction between the computer and the person—can create a few drawbacks to using some apps.

A solution to these problems is using a larger device such as a tablet or iPad, explains Jeffrey Bewley, University of Kentucky assistant Extension professor in dairy systems management.

With "an 8" tablet, you can still hold it in your hand pretty easily, but you’ve still got a little more room that you can play with," Bewley says.

"We’ve started doing some work with that, both at the university dairy and some field dairies," he says.

Compared to smartphones, tablets can be relatively inexpensive tools to purchase. Some Android models are sold for less than $100.

Bewley likes the idea of using a tablet not only for its increased size, but also for the fact that if something were to happen to the tablet, like dropping it on concrete, it is easier to replace than a phone.

"For most of us, the idea of losing our cellphone, even if it for just a couple of days, can be kind of dramatic," Bewley adds. "So I like having that separate device with the bigger screen."

Technologies that offer monitoring capabilities on dairies have been the focus for much of Bewley’s research. Many of these monitors have apps that can be synchronized to give direct feedback via mobile devices.

Bewley says he also sees applications for monitoring technology where there is some value in providing real-time alerts, such as for cows in heat, high mastitis levels, or whatever else needs quick attention.

Estrus detection monitors are one form of monitoring that is being used on more dairies. "We are seeing lots of growth, and there are a lot of viable options for dairy producers to use these technologies for heat detection," Bewley says. "The fact that there are so many good options has really increased the adoption rate."

Long term, Bewley anticipates that there will be a lot of value in future monitoring technologies for detection of various production issues, such as mastitis, lameness and disease.

"This is really powerful stuff, and it is going to be a game-changer for how we work with cows," he says. But producers should not use that information as a crutch for trying to replace poor management.

"People who are going to benefit from those technologies the most are the people who already have good cow sense and are good cow people," he says. "When good cow people invest in technologies like that, it makes them even better cow people."