Do These Things Work? Determining the Effectiveness of Automated Health Monitoring Systems for NY Dairies.

There’s a plethora of automated health monitoring systems on the market for dairy farms. Wireless sensors can be based in collars, leg bands, ear tags, or the rumen to monitor rumination, physical activity, eating time, lying time, and body temperature as predictors of a cow’s overall health. Dr. Julio Giordano is finding out how well they work.

This article was originally published in the 2017 NYFVI annual report.

Automated Health Monitoring  (AHM) systems have the potential to improve dairy cow health and reduce labor costs.  Unfortunately, the market is lacking independent controlled studies to understand if these systems can identify health issues more accurately and cost effectively than a traditional labor force. Julio Giordano of Cornell University is enrolling 1,200 dairy cows in a study to learn the pros, cons and economics of these systems.

The NYFVI farmer review panel was highly supportive of the project, with frequent comments indicating the importance of understanding the new tools coming onto the market.  One reviewer expressed it well: “Labor is the largest increasing cost for NY dairy farms, automation is the future, research is needed to show the farmers what works.”

AHM systems may cost between $70 – $160 per cow and also require labor for daily management. They are expected to last 5 to 7 years. While that may seem expensive, if accurate they may improve a farm’s animal management and reduce their labor costs.

“I feel this research is going to benefit our farm by catching cows that need special attention earlier, so we can intervene earlier, making them healthier and more productive over time. Knowing that we can trust these tools will help us operate more efficiently and prioritize our labor across the operation.

We’ll be able to focus on the cows that need the attention, and the healthy cows can just be cows without any human interference.”

Garrett Miller
Dairy Herd Manager, Oakwood Dairy LLC

Giordano is partnering with Oakwood Dairy Farm LLC to conduct the research, which requires the team’s technicians to be on farm every day. The work, which will be completed in March 2019 has three primary goals:

1) Determine the feasibility of running a health monitoring program based primarily on an automated health monitoring system rather than clinical examination.

2) Quantify any potential benefits of earlier identification of disease.

3) Determine the cost benefit of AHM systems for dairy farms. 

The USDA has also recognized the importance of these new tools, and Giordano has been funded to conduct more research in this area. The goal is to improve the understanding of the massive amount of information generated by sensors used in AHM systems, develop new methods to integrate data from multiple sensors, and determine the value of different types of sensor data.

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