West Texas ranchers keeping herds healthy with ‘Fitbits for cows’

Heatime devices
Published: Oct. 2, 2022 at 8:41 PM CDT
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MULESHOE, Texas (KCBD) - Heat detector devices are starting to be used by more farmers in West Texas. Many call these ear tags and collars, “Fitbits” for cows.

“Essentially just like our Apple watches or Fitbits, they just track the movements of the animal,” senior director of operations at Micro Technologies in Amarillo, Marcus Dorsey, said. “They can tell the difference of the intensity of the movement, so it’s whether they’re walking or running, and things of that kind.”

Dorsey says right now, these gadgets are very useful because of the struggles dairy farmers are facing - including labor shortages, inflation, and supply chain issues.

“They’re needing to use technology to help them be on a cutting edge, to make sure they’re staying ahead and being able to provide wholesome and a good product for the consumers,” Dorsey said.

For the past nine years, the owner of Prairie View Dairy in Muleshoe, James Hancock, has been using the “Fitbit” collars. Now, he can prevent his whole herd from getting sick.

“We’re now able to identify with the collars about five days in advance from where you can see a clinical sign of the disease,” Hancock said. “We can catch them about five days early.”

Hancock says this technology can be costly, but it saves money down the road. He can treat his cows for diseases before they need expensive injections and more efficiently breed cows.

“It was worth it,” Hancock said. “It saved us enough money in other areas on the dairy that we actually managed to pay for that system within the first year and a half of putting them on.”

And healthier cows can produce more milk.

“Every cow that is treated properly actually increases in the amount of milk she gives,” Hancock said. “So, the better we treat the animals, the more milk we gain.”

Hancock can look at all of this data on his computer.

“On the collar system, it comes up and it ties into our milk meters in our barn, and it ties into each individual cow’s records. It does all that so we can track everything that the cows doing all the time, and put all that data together to see the rises and falls in their health,” Hancock said.

He says it feels like he is standing right next to the cow all day long, and can determine exactly what that cow needs.

Employees at Prairie View Dairy use the app on their phone. If they see a cow that doesn’t look well, they can look at the app to see how it’s doing.

Hancock says the device’s battery life can last up to nine years. He is just now trading out his old collars for new ones, but is sticking to the same system because it worked.

Dorsey says Micro Technologies first brought them to the Panhandle 15 years ago. Over time, the devices have changed a lot from just heat detection, to being able to tell how the cow is doing by how much it is eating, and more.

For more information on Micro Technologies, click here. For more information on the Heatime devices, click here.