Dairy farms go digital with apps

The iconic image of an old homesteader in weather-worn overalls is being replaced by that of a digital-savvy agricultural expert wielding a tablet.

Krissa Welshans 1, Feedstuffs Editor

July 11, 2015

6 Min Read
Dairy farms go digital with apps

AS farms grow increasingly complex and more dependent on science and technology, the iconic image of an old homesteader in weather-worn overalls is being replaced by that of a digital-savvy agricultural expert wielding a tablet.

Faculty, staff and students at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) are making major contributions to this evolution, particularly within the dairy industry. SVM's Food Animal Production Medicine (FAPM) program has developed eight unique iPad applications to help meet the needs of today's dairy farmers.

Available on the iTunes store, the apps provide a wide variety of assistance, from the "Freestall Assessor" app that helps guide freestall construction to optimize cow comfort and milk production to the "Group Pen Respiratory Scorer" app that offers step-by-step instructions on assessing the respiratory health of calves.

"These are tools that can be used to make evaluating different aspects of dairy farming much easier," said Nigel Cook, professor and chair of the SVM department of medical sciences. "For most of these apps, we've taken proven, pen-and-paper systems, which our faculty previously developed, and translated them into a portable, digital format."

In addition to eliminating the hassles of paperwork, the major advantages of the apps include instant feedback on various measurements, immediate data uploads, long-term data storage and analytical functionality.

"All of this can lead to greater efficiency and cost savings for dairy farms," said Tom Bennett, a senior information processing consultant with SVM who played a lead role in developing the apps.

Karl Burgi of Sure Step Consulting International LLC uses several of the apps when working with clients at dairy farms across the globe and as part of the hoof trimming services he provides in south-central Wisconsin. He said they have led to improvements on the farms he visits.

"Often, you just have a feeling of what's wrong on a farm, but the apps back it up with science," Burgi said. "They help you educate clients by showing them the science, and they help you give recommendations to dairy producers more easily."

The apps were created as teaching tools at SVM, so the format is also beneficial for producer education.

A grant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Educational Innovation initiative supported the development of teaching modules for clinical rotations in food animal production medicine for fourth-year students, as well as the purchase of 15 tablets for a mobile FAPM learning lab. Apps were the next logical step, according to Cook.

"Now, students use them for learning in the classroom and out in the field during farm visits," Cook said. However, "we also wanted these apps to be available commercially for anyone who wants to use them."

Since first launching in September 2014, FAPM's apps have logged nearly 900 downloads in 40 countries on six continents. Proceeds from purchases support ongoing app development. Two additional apps — one for assessing and preventing lameness in cows and another for identifying and predicting an infectious hoof disease called digital dermatitis — have been developed in partnership with Zinpro Corp., which has taken over their management.


Closer look

Apps are available for download through the SVM iTunes page.

"Calf Health Scorer" utilizes a graphical interface to evaluate calf health based on a scoring system.

The "Freestall Assessor" app uses a pictorial guide to aid in evaluating the dimensions and construction of a dairy's freestall design. The intent is to maximize cow comfort and, subsequently, milk production.

"Group Pen Respiratory Scorer" integrates a respiratory scoring method as well as a pictorial guide of various respiratory symptoms to aid in evaluating young dairy stock in group pens.

The "Johne's Risk Assessor" app converts a nationally standardized system into app form to assist veterinarians and their clients with the implementation of a risk assessment and management plan designed to prevent the spread of Johne's disease, a fatal gastrointestinal infection also known as paratuberculosis.

"Locomotion Scorer" offers multiple systems for scoring dairy cows for degrees of lameness and includes photos, videos and descriptions of lameness categories to help with classification. It is also iPhone compatible.

Another app, called the "Preg Calculator," allows herd managers to input a wide variety of reproductive parameters, such as herd size and calving intervals, and then calculate the number of pregnancies needed per interval to maintain the herd. It is iPhone compatible, as well.

The Zinpro iTunes page has two additional apps. "DD Check" helps dairy producers quickly identify, record and monitor digital dermatitis lesions and uses a sophisticated statistical model to help predict potential outbreaks of the hoof disease. "First Step" provides a comprehensive assessment of lameness risk factors for dairy farms.


Calcium intake

Scientists from 11 land-grant institutions and Brigham Young University are working together to help parents motivate children to boost their calcium intake in order to strengthen bones and prevent bone fractures from occurring later in life.

The scientists are members of a multistate research project titled "Motivating Parents of Preadolescents (9-13 years old) to Increase Calcium Intake (W-2003)," which uses data from questionnaires to develop messages and graphics for educational materials.

The taglines and graphics are tailored to help parents of pre-adolescents encourage their children to consume calcium-rich foods and beverages.

W-2003 is particularly aimed at helping groups with a higher risk of osteoporosis, including Asians and Hispanics. Osteoporosis, or the thinning of bones, leads to 1.5 million fractures each year.

"Bone acquisition, or bone building, is at its highest rate during pre-adolescence. An adequate consumption of calcium during these years helps to ensure strong bones and reduce risk of osteoporosis later in life. However, current research indicates that most pre-adolescents are not consuming enough calcium," said Dr. Carolyn Gunther, assistant professor in The Ohio State University College of Education & Human Ecology and extension state specialist; Dr. Rickelle Richards, associate professor in the department of nutrition, dietetics and food science at Brigham Young University, and Dr. Jinan Banna, assistant professor in the University of Hawaii-Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources.

The suggested daily intake of calcium is 1,300 mg, which amounts to roughly three servings from the dairy group, including milk, yogurt and cheese. Most children consume only 60-80% of the suggested daily amount, the scientists said.

According to data from W-2003, a variety of factors influence an early adolescent's calcium intake. The group's research showed that parents who regularly drank milk and offered milk to their children generally knew more about the health benefits of calcium and encouraged more calcium consumption in their children. School, family members, the amount of television watched, a dislike for calcium-rich foods and a preference for drinks other than milk were other factors that influenced children's food and beverage choices and calcium intake.

"We know that parents play a major role in the foods and beverages their kids consume but often need help in knowing how to help their kids have healthy eating patterns," Gunther, Richards and Banna said. "The messages our team developed are intended to help parents engage in specific practices that we know facilitate adequate calcium intake in children, such as making calcium-rich foods and beverages available, setting rules and expectations for consuming calcium-rich beverages and role modeling eating calcium-rich foods."

The materials and their messages are currently being tested for their effectiveness.

The 11 participating land-grant institutions include the University of Arizona, the University of Arkansas, the University of California-Davis, the University of Hawaii, the University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University, The Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, Utah Cooperative Extension and Washington State University.

Volume:87 Issue:26

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