Using mobile technology helps prevent dairy disease

Michigan State grant to adapt mobile technology to help prevent dairy cow illness, while Vital Herd start-up proposes rumen sensors.

A Michigan State University AgBioResearch animal scientist will lead a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional effort to adapt mobile technology to help farmers prevent dairy cattle illness.

Lorraine Sordillo, the Meadow Brook chair of farm animal health and well-being in Michigan State's College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), has received a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the four-year project.

Researchers from Michigan State and North Dakota State University will study the factors that contribute to cow health risks during the most vulnerable period of their lives — the three weeks before and the first several weeks after giving birth. Data will be collected to develop an app for smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices that can detect early warning signs of disease susceptibility.

"Cows can get sick anytime, but they're especially vulnerable during the transition phase — when they're switching from late pregnancy to producing milk after the calf is born," Sordillo said. "The big problem is that if a cow gets sick during the early lactation period, she'll never reach her peak milk-producing capacity."

The factors that contribute to metabolic stress, called biomarkers, can be monitored and are well-documented as a result of years of research. Sordillo said she and her team plan to take advantage of modern mobile technology in an effort to compile that knowledge into a tool that farmers can use in the field.

Currently, most farms have to address the causes of metabolic stress after the animals are already sick. Sordillo and her team want to be able to provide farmers with proactive tools to prevent disease from occurring.

Interestingly, Brian Walsh, chief executive officer of Vital Herd, spoke at a PTC Live Global event on the "internet of things" and described a system his company is developing that involves placing electronic pills in the rumen of dairy cows — much like cow magnets — that would monitor multiple vital signs of the cows and transmit that data to farmers in order to head off costly illnesses.

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