Mike Shutz has a tough job as an Extension dairy specialist at the Purdue University College of Agriculture in Animal Sciences. He not only has to help producers think about how to maximize production ad profit, but he also must care about the welfare of the cow. Keeping cows healthy during lactation is also one of his priorities.
Through research, he has discovered that the temperature of the dairy cow, in particular, can indicate several things. It may mean she's sick, or it may mean she's ready to come into heat, ready to be bred. In those cases, the temperature would be higher than normal for that individual.
However, farmers managing maternity pens closely can also use body temperature to help predict birth in animals. In cows, the mother's body temperature drops about eight hours before she is ready to deliver the calf. If you could have monitors detecting this information and feeding it to a program that the farmer could monitor, he could do a better job of managing and preparing to do their job.
The catch is how to monitor body temperature. Shcutz has experimented with a bolus-type, magnetic device that is actually a thermometer, which can send readings to a receiver outside the cow. The bolus takes up residence in the cow's reticulum.
Schutz has experimented with these devices, but he says they are not currently available on the market. A couple of companies have tried to offer them, but have not been able to overcome some inherent problems due to the nature of the cow. For example, if a cow drinks cool water, it may be three to four hours before the temperature in the reticulum area of her stomach returns to normal. This can interfere with the ability to set up a baseline for the cow, and to monitor her progress once natural processes within her body are altering the temperature, not drinking cool or cold water.
His work isn't limited to what's going on inside the cow. He's also experimenting with rubber matting to see what cows prefer to walk on. So far they've learned that cattle prefer to walk on the mat in front of feed bunks or on mat paths leading to their confinement pens on rubber instead of concrete.