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Fitbits! Yes, Our cows wear Fitbits!

Here is a video link where Pam talks about how their cows wear activity trackers that are alot like Fitbits that people wear.

(By C. Jacob, The Country Today)

Neither Pam Selz-Pralle nor her husband, Scott Pralle, wears a Fitbit on their wrist to track their activity while working on their farm. But their cows do.

To be more accurate, their 500 cows wear rumination and activity monitors around their neck, not the name-brand FitBit devices many people use to track everything from step count to heart rate.

While the human and bovine devices have their differences, “Fitbits for cows” does show the health and wellness craze is also present in the dairy industry, Selz-Pralle said.

Tracking cow “moo-vement” isn’t exactly new, Selz-Pralle said. We've been using activity and rumination tracking devices for 15 years. The prices for the cow activity monitors (about $120-$150) are remarkably similar to those of Fitbits to people. But the total investment adds up when trying to track a 50 cow herd as opposed to a single person. The cost of an activity tracker can eat away at an already thin margin for dairy cows, but Selz-Pralle says the investment was worth it. For one, the technology helps keep our cow’s healthy. We know that healthy cows make healthy milk,” Selz-Pralle said. Plus, healthier cows live longer.

The activity trackers transmit signals to a computer program several times a day, collecting data that can indicate a cow is sick. The computer program sends alerts to Farmer Scott's telephone when a cow is deviating from her normal behavior.

Cow's don't talk. Their food intake often speaks for them. Lower milk production is usually the first sign of a sick cow. With cow fitbits, Farmer Scott can detect a sick cow 24-48 hours before she starts showing clinical signs of illness. That early notice provides a chance to address problems with other treatments, such as extra fluids, aspirin, or probiotics that aren’t as invasive and don’t require antibiotic use.

Activity trackers can also indicate which cows are likely to be high performers. For example, a typical cow may spend 6-8 hours ruminating a day, while a high performer may spend 10 hours a day chewing its cud, Selz-Pralle said. Data from Selz-Pralle Dairy’s world-record-holding cow for milk production showed that she ruminated for 10-plus hours a day and wasn’t very active, Selz-Pralle said. Upon examination of the cow’s records, they also found that she had never been treated for anything in her life.

The data from the activity trackers can also assist in monitoring a cow’s fertility cycle, including indicating optimal times for breeding, providing earlier notice prior to calving and helping watch cows post-calving, Selz-Pralle said.

If the activity trackers can help keep cows healthier, that also makes the farm more efficient. “For us, it saves on labor,” Selz-Pralle said. Farmer Pam figures that one sick animal adds an additional half hour of work to an already 12-hour long day. Any labor that the activity trackers can save — and any useful data they can provide — is also particularly helpful in an industry that has been struggling to find enough skilled laborers.

What investments like cow activity monitors — which have become less expensive over time, as is the case for much technology — really boil down to for farmers like Selz-Pralle is animal care. Selz-Pralle said she wants consumers to know that cow health and milk quality aren’t something they kid about. “Cows always come first,” Selz-Pralle said. “We need this new technology to help take care of our animals.”

And to consumers, the farm promises to provide a safe and high-quality product, no matter the time of year.

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