Wednesday, October 16, 2013

App Keeps Cattle Comfortable and Profitable

A new product that can help animal farmers reduce billions of dollars in heat-related losses was recently released by the University of Missouri.

ThermalAid is a smart phone app that monitors heat-related stresses on beef and dairy cattle and alerts farmers when there is a problem. The app also recommends which intervention strategy will be most effective.

“Cows are like the rest of us,” said Don Spiers, professor of animal sciences at Mizzou’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and who led the team that developed the app.  “They slowdown in hot and humid weather. When stressed by too much heat, they stop eating, and thus fail to grain weight or produce milk.”

Hot weather means big losses for farmers. “Each summer, the dairy industry loses $900 million nationally in productivity and the beef industry $400 million. And that’s data from 2003 when the industry was smaller and summers less intense,” Spiers said.

Inexpensive App
The 99 cent app receives temperature and humidity data from the weather service according to the GPS location of the user.  The farmer tells the app if it is beef or dairy cow, if it is in the barn or outside, if it is on the pasture or feed lot, its health status, and other information.

With that, the app calculates the animal’s Temperature Humidity Index, or the THI. If the THI is not stressful, the app shows green for that cow.  If heat stress is an issue, the color goes to yellow and then orange. Red indicates a life-threatening condition.

The farmer can also measure each cow’s respiration rate, a good indicator of heat stress impact on the animal. A built-in timer can assist the user to record the respiration rate.

When farmers know that their animals are stressed, they can intervene with additional shade, fans or water misters to improve comfort and productivity. The app is tied to a MU database called ThermalNet which provides additional climate and weather data, as well as tips to manage heat stress.

ThermalNet has the ability to allow farmers to communicate with experts at MU Animal Science.

Improved Version Coming
ThermalAid took more than two years to develop.  This app will automatically pull in ambient temperature and humidity data from sensors that the producer places at different locations on the farm site, thus increasing accuracy of the THI calculation. Future updates might include information from sensors placed on individual animals.

If temperature and humidity conditions exceed a certain limit, the app warns the farmer that a cow is experiencing heat stress.

The upcoming app will create a regional database of heat stress information, giving farmers a new tool to combat losses, and scientists associated with the project will use the new information to develop better predictors of the impact of heat stress on animals.

“Ideally, we need temperature modules placed in different locations on the farm site that provide real-time readings and inputs — but that development is costly at present,” Spiers said. The challenge is to make a cost-effective product that is reliable and durable in a field environment.


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