Technology provides tools to gather data, enabling dairy farmers to make immediate decisions based on real-time herd information. A producer panel discussed their individual uses of “wearable” technologies during the Precision Dairy Farming Conference and Expo, held May 30-June 1, in Lexington, Kentucky. The event was organized by the University of Kentucky and the University of Minnesota.

Schwoeppe somula
Somula Schwoeppe is a dairy producer in Indiana.

Panel participants were Stacy Sidebottom from Sidebottom Dairy Farm, Greenville, Kentucky; Jeff Core from Keightley and Core Jerseys, Salvisa, Kentucky; and Joey Clark, University of Kentucky, Coldstream Dairy, Lexington, Kentucky.

Sidebottom has been milking since 1985 and milks 240 cows. He has been using the Alta Genetics CowWatch neck and leg technologies for 18 months.

Core has been farming for over 40 years and milks 250 cows. He has been using CowManager technology for approximately 40 months.

Clark has been the herdsman at the University of Kentucky for 11 years. He has been using multiple technologies for seven years.


All panelists noted the technologies have allowed them to provide more individualized cow care, leading to increased efficiencies. The following are answers to questions from conference attendees.

Joey Clark

What was the determining factor when choosing your wearable devices?

CLARK: Current research projects dictate which wearable devices we are using.

CORE: I have the CowManager tags, and I liked the user friendliness of them and the ability to access the data on my cellphone. I liked the fact they were designed by a farmer, and I thought they would work with our management situation.

SIDEBOTTOM: There are two reasons I have the devices I use. Number one is there was a study through the University of Kentucky, so we got some financial help, and number two is there was a grant we qualified for.

How long did it take you to trust the computer instead of your own observations?

CLARK: The data collection seems to be fairly consistent over all the devices. There is a very small difference between the consistency of information.

CORE: I am kind of set in my ways and want to be stubborn. I was not seeing cows in heat, but when I palpated them, they were in heat. These tags sense the cow’s temperature and will trigger the system when it is 1 degree over. Often the cow is not showing any clinical signs of sickness, but when I check with a thermometer, she has a temp and I am able to treat her with preventative medicine and get ahead of the ball.

SIDEBOTTOM: When we started with the system, we were using lutalyse shots for breeding, and that stopped when we started with the activity monitors. We experienced a barn fire that destroyed our reader, so we are experiencing what it is like to not have monitors after having monitors. Before having the technology, I drenched every fresh cow with propylene glycol for five days. After having the technology, I did not have to do this because I knew when the cow was sick. Now we are back to drenching fresh cows; I don’t know what is going on with the cow, so by drenching, I do know she is being supported during transition.

Jeff Core

What about maintenance, and about false positives: Do you notice a lot of lameness issues in correlation to false positive readings from the monitors?

CLARK: There is maintenance. Sometimes collars or eartags get caught in a headlock or gate, and they have to be replaced. With all wearables, placement is important to ensure correct reading and data collection. With internal devices, obviously a cow’s digestive tract will do damage over time. 

CORE: We have very little lameness problems and do not have cows that continuously trigger the system. This has really not been an issue for us. When eartags are lost, we replace them.

SIDEBOTTOM: We have not paid a whole lot of attention to lameness with the monitors. As far as false positives, with having both leg bands and neck collars, if you get a notification from both monitors that the cow is in heat, you can pretty much bet she is in heat. Usually if the cow is triggering the system continuously, and you aren’t 100 percent sure she is OK, then you need to check the device for proper placement.

What have you learned about your own management and how the system should be used on your farms, and how has precision technology improved your management?

CLARK: The first thing is trusting the technology. We have a tendency to not trust it, so we have to get past that at a management standpoint and learn how to manage that factor and react to it. We are constantly looking at technologies that are collecting different types of data: activity, rumination, heat monitoring, temperature. … There is so much technical observation going on, we have to match our management with the technology.

CORE: We now use a lot of sexed semen. When we started out, we had no baseline, and that has really helped us. Conception rates are a little tricky because sometimes we hold a cow out for various reasons such as production, but after using the monitors, we are consistently having pregnancy checks with an 80 percent pregnancy rate. This means we are now catching cows in heat. When first using the eartags, they would tell me a cow was in heat, but I didn’t see it. Later, when breeding her, she would arch her back and there was clear discharge, so obviously she was in heat. By trusting the technology, we are timing our breeding more correctly; everything is right when we are checking them. This has been a big plus for us.

SIDEBOTTOM: We have learned that our best conception rate is 80 to 100 days, and before using the monitors, I thought it was 70 days. Another thing I found is that I was breeding cows too early in their cycle. I had preached and preached that when we see a cow in heat, we breed her in 12 hours, and now I know that is not the case. The biggest thing I have seen is that my services are almost half of what they were.

Stacy Sidebottom

How have your treatment strategies changed since you now have sick cow alerts, and how have you changed your decision making when determining when to cull a cow versus when to treat a cow?

CLARK: The research issues are a problem. Early observation is key to successful treatment; however, according to research protocol, we may be developing a baseline and not be treating her immeditately.

CORE: It really has not changed our treatment a lot. I still get the cow in the chute and check the temperature and listen to her rumen. If I can’t find anything wrong, I’ll put her in a stall, give her hay and watch her for a day. I try to see what the cow actually needs and will give her a probiotic and watch her for 12 hours before I treat her with anything.

SIDEBOTTOM: Usually the system will pick it up before you can even see it. So basically, the treatment has not changed, the timing of the treatment has changed.

Is there anything you would like to see changed with your technologies?

CLARK: The access to the information is the key for us. One of the technologies has an app I can check while in the barn, and that is a definite benefit. When I am away from the farm and I get an alert, I like being able to check back in on a specific animal, and I like to see what is there quickly.

CORE: I have been pleased with my system. I am typically hard to please, but this system is simple, and with the phone access, it has really done what it has promised to do. If I am not receiving a notification, then I can feel safe that everything is running pretty good.

SIDEBOTTOM: For what I bought it for, I am very comfortable with the system. From where we were before, we have changed a lot. Now that our system is down, I am spending a lot more time in the barn watching the cows for heats and other health issues.

When asked what their future goals are with their wearable technology systems, all three panelists stated they want to extend the ability to monitor their herds to include the dry cows and close-up heifers.  end mark

View photos of the Precision Dairy Conference here.

Tour the University of Kentucky Coldstream Dairy here.

Somula Schwoeppe

PHOTO 1: Joey Clark, herdsman at the University of Kentucky’s Coldstream Dairy, Lexington, Kentucky.

PHOTO 2: Jeff Core, Keightley and Core Jerseys, Salvisa, Kentucky.

PHOTO 3: Stacy Sidebottom, Sidebottom Dairy Farm, Greenville, Kentucky. Photos by Somula Schwoeppe.