“Cows are a lot of work,” says farmer Austin Knowles. Keeping a herd healthy and content so they can calve once a year and produce milk for 10 months each year is complicated than one might think. It would be wonderful if cows could tell you how they feel, but that’s not an option. Austrian-based Smaxtec has a stomach implant that does the next best thing, though — sending health-related emails to the vet or text messages to herd managers, as reported in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Knowing when a cow is about ready for breeding is important, as is the ability to detect signs of illness early to help the cow and prevent spreading disease to the herd. A cow’s heat lasts 30 hours and the most fertile time is between hours 12 and 24. With large herds, especially if they’re spread over a large territory, it can be easy to miss the signs of a cow in heat. With the Smaxtec implant, the vet would get an email as soon as a cow’s signs indicate the beginning of an illness and the herd manager would receive a text message warning when she’s about to go in heat.
The Smaxtec implant senses and sends real-time data about the cow’s stomach pH, her temperature, activity level, and how much water she’s consumed. The data is picked up by a base station that adds temperature and humidity data and sends it all to the cloud.
Smaxtec sensors serve as an early warning system to reduce infectious diseases. Rather than have the cows physically moved to an area where a vet can check vitals and run tests, the sensors transmit the data. According to SmaXtec co-founder Stefan Rosenkranz, “It’s easier, after all, to look at the situation from inside the cow than in the lab.”
The sensors don’t identify specific diseases, but a notice about increased temperature can “make you go and check earlier than you otherwise would,” says veterinary nurse Helen Hollingsworth. “If you can detect illness early, you can start antibiotics earlier and ultimately use less.”
With the Smaxtec’s 95 percent accuracy of predicting when a cow is going to give birth, farmers can space pregnancies closely to obtain the greatest milk production. “The crux of any dairy farm is fertility,” said Knowles. “We are trying to have a calf per cow every year. Everything we do on the farm comes back to that.”