The world of dairy farming is ever evolving, and more and more – and increasingly smarter – tools are available to add to the on-farm toolbox. For many dairy businesses, it’s no longer a matter of if they’re interested in using innovative technology; it’s become about making the right choice. Which smart solution will be the best choice to help them get their herd management to the next level?
FROM TRADITION TO TECHNOLOGY
When it comes to cow monitoring systems, the decision-making can be daunting. Options are endless and methods vary. We’ve got rumen boluses, leg sensors, collars, ear sensors, among many others. All claiming to be most effective, most of them using the same core parameters for measuring herd health and fertility: Behavior, (in)activity, rumination time and eating time. One of the more unique parameters that sets cow monitoring solutions apart in terms of around the clock monitoring, group comparisons and cow health seems to be ear temperature, obviously only used in ear sensors. Which leads to the question: What is the added value or measuring a cow’s ear temperature? Does it really make a difference?
Let’s take a step back first and look at what traditions led to that technology. Because even the most innovative farming technology ideas stem from so-called ‘old farmer’s wisdom’. For instance, herd managers used to have to keep an eye on cows’ visual behavioral indicators for hours a day to see if she was displaying signs of heat behavior.
As for ear temperature, back in the day, whenever dairy farmers wanted to make sure a cow was feeling well, they would feel her ears to check for a change in temperature. Having to physically be among your herd nearly 24/7 to be able to tell if something is the matter or to spot a window of opportunity, is something we can’t imagine nowadays. And it’s something we can’t afford to do anymore, with the number of livestock and production increasing in most Western countries over the past decades, while number of staff members are declining due to labor issues.
EFFECTIVE DIAGNOSTIC TOOL
Iowa State University in the United States also wondered if ear temperature would really make a difference. They did a peer reviewed study on monitoring behavior as well as temperature, in 2017. In their study, they focused on cow data collected by an ear sensor system at the ISU Dairy.
Ear temperature is not comparable to core temperature, as ear temperature experiences daily variation based on external temperatures. In winter, ear temperature never reaches freezing and during summer hot weather, never goes above 95-98 °F / 35-36,67 °C. Because of this, one outstanding benefit and aspect of ear temperature monitoring is that an individual animal is tracked and graphed simultaneously with the group ear temperature average. This allows dairy farmers and staff to compare one cow to the herd’s average.
Whenever a cow gets an infection, the blood in the ears moves to vital organs. When tracking ear temperature, you catch this change early on, potentially saving yourself and the monitored cow a lot of problems further down the road. Being able to measure ear temperature on group level, combined with measuring deviations in behavior, is one of the most effective ways to catch heat stress early. Ear temperature as an added parameter allows farmers to assess their heat abatement strategy in a more effective way as well as spot lesser performing cows in the herd, therefore adding significant value to their herd management.
According to the study, the evidence of ear hypothermia is an effective diagnostic tool for significant health events. Or, as they cite in their research findings; a ‘problem indicator’.
ANTICIPATING COWS’ NEEDS
Jeffrey S. Stevenson, a professor at the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University, specializes in the reproduction physiology of the bovine. In one of his latest articles, he studied the added value of ear temperature in cow monitoring. He states that late gestational ear-surface temperatures were associated with some postpartum health disorders and modifications in daily eating, ruminating, and active times during the transition period of gravid heifers and dry cows.
In other words: Including ear temperature as one of the parameters in cow monitoring technology provides dairy farmers, AI specialists, veterinarians, and nutritionists with even more precise herd information. It’s not only an early indicator for several health issues, but also a tool to monitor recovery. It’s an added layer of real-time cow monitoring and a valuable indicator for making fact-based improvements to your herd management, helping dairy professionals to recognize potential issues or opportunities before they’re observable by the human eye.
-  Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2022) – “Farm Size and Productivity”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/farm-size’ [Online Resource]
-  Corujo, G. & Timms, L. L., (2017) “Uses of an Ear Tag Based Behavioral and Temperature Monitoring System (Cow ManagerR) at the ISU Dairy”, Iowa State University Animal Industry Report 14(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.31274/ans_air-180814-391
-  J.S. Stevenson (2022) – “Late-gestation ear-surface temperatures and subsequent postpartum health, activity, milk yield, and reproductive performance of dairy cows”. Published online at sciencedirect.com. Retrieved from: ‘https://doi.org/10.1016/j.theriogenology.2022.01.022‘ [Online Resource]