Cow wearable tech update

The last five years have been good for cow wearables, with the number of farmers using the tech jumping from 3% in 2018 to 16% in 2023 - a growth rate of 50% per year. If this kept up, all dairy farms would have wearables within the next five years. But there's a factor that may put the brakes on - running out of drafting gates! 

The main idea behind wearables is that they notify you when something needs to be done with an animal - heat detection being the major use case. The issue is that simply providing you with a list of 20 cows on heat to draft out is not very useful, as you would need to read the tag numbers of every cow and check them against your list (you may as well be tail painting)! 

That's where the magic of automated drafting gates comes in. The systems talk to each other and, at the end of milking, all cows ready for mating are waiting patiently in the yard for the AI tech. But that's only if you have paid the $40k or more to install one. It turns out that around 60% of rotary sheds have put in automated drafting gates, compared to only 20% of herringbones – that’s a 3x difference. It's not surprising then that the uptake of wearables in rotaries is also 3x that for herringbones; ~30% vs ~10%.  

When asked which tech topped their wishlist (provided they had the capital), cow wearables came out as number one for both herringbone and rotary farmers. If all farmers got their wish, there would be a 30% increase in both systems. Based on the same survey, drafting gates would only see an increase of around 10%. 

What does this mean? 

  • For rotary farms, 70% will have drafting gates and 60% will want cow tech. 

  • For herringbones, 30% will have drafting gates and 50% will want cow tech. This causes an issue in that, for a large number of herringbone farms, they won’t have a drafting gate to reap all the benefits of their cow wearable tech.

Is there any workaround to allow farmers without drafting gates to still reap the benefits of cow wearables?  

It seems that products designed in NZ, for our way of farming, rather than the other side of the world where cows are kept inside and milked by robots, have a rather simple solution - put a light on it! 

  • Aside from in-paddock, virtual fence drafting, Halter provides an LED that lights up in the shed when cows are on heat.  

  • Flashmate (aptly named) are a single season smart patch glued to the rump that flashes when estrus is detected.  

  • ProTag is another NZ startup based in the Waikato that incorporates a bright LED to assist farmers in drafting. The cows of interest can be easily identified in the shed (or paddock) by their flashing LED light and drafted.  

Over the last few years, I’ve been helping out ProTag as they have been developing the next generation of affordable wearables - a solar powered eartag that can track location in addition to temperature and behaviour. The ability to track the location in pasture-based dairy is a game changer. 

Heat detection can be improved by tracking riding events and sexually active groups; and lameness can be identified by changes in distance and speed. Even simple things like knowing that milking started on time, cows are in the correct mob/paddock, and gates are closed can help a farm run more smoothly. Most wearables don’t do this because it's not needed in the barn environments where the tech was developed.  

To find out more, you can check out the ProTag website or, get in touch with me at: charlotte.glass@vetcm.co.nz


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