Using several different technologies, researchers at the University of Kentucky are in the midst of gathering biological and observational data that indicate several dairy cow health status parameters and estrus behavior. They’re also delving into detection of heat stress, the onset of calving, lameness, and early detection of mastitis, metritis, and metabolic disorders.

This long-reaching study implements both cutting-edge and more familiar technologies to bolster herdsmen’s skills in studying physiology and behavior in dairy cattle, particularly as it relates to illness and estrus.

A milking system will measure drops in yield in each quarter of the cow’s udder, and in particular, electrical conductivity of the milk at the quarter level during milking. There is an indirect connection between electrical conductivity and mastitis. Tags will measure rumination, or cud chewing, providing an opportunity to react quickly to, say, onset of illness or disadvantageous feeding changes, at the singleanimal and herd level. A second set of tags will take the surface temperature of the inside of the right ear of each fresh cow every five minutes.

Another technology will monitor lying behavior and activity. And a passive bolus system will monitor animal core temperature, which provides information for early disease detection, ovulation detection and parturition. Finally, an ear tag will monitor ear temperature and activity to identify potential peripheral shock (cold extremities), which may be particularly useful for early identification of milk fever.

Combined, these devices will provide data that measures cow comfort, which can then be extrapolated to make changes in the dairy’s facilities. Cow comfort can lead to better overall health, which lowers the cost of animal care and/or treatment and can increase animal longevity and boost milk yield. The data from this study will be used to assess the economic impact of precision dairy farming technologies on a farm’s bottom line. The technologies are highly developed, but may not be economically viable for most farmers yet.