Fitbits hit the farm


BOWNE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Dairy farmers are using fitness trackers, similar to Fitbits and smartwatches, to learn more about their cows.

SwissLane Farms has been a fan of the technology for about seven years as the staff tries to stay ahead of its competition.

“We’re finding that if we don’t, we’re not going to be able to keep up with our competition,” Tom Oesch, the dairy operations manager told 24 Hour News 8. 

“Lightyears ahead” is a core value at the four-generation farm. “We’ve been milking cows for over 100 years,” Oesch said.

While there have been several recent news articles about farms trying out these so-called “cow Fitbits,” the West Michigan farm began using them in 2011.

Technology is important on Oesch’s family farm, which is home to more than 2,500 cows. 

SwissLane Farms has milking stations that don’t require any human interaction. The cows decide when to go in then laser technology helps the machine find and clean their udders before milking.

“We feel like automation is the future of milking cows,” said Oesch.

These activity trackers work alongside that same technology. The gadgets, found around their necks, track the cows’ weight, daily steps, milk production and even how often she chews and spits.

“The more she’s chewing, we know the healthier her stomach is,” Oesch explained.

Corralling all that cattle information digitally has been a big help. Oesch said that the cows in the automated barn are much calmer. They’re also living longer, producing more and in the animal hospital less.

It’s a testament to technology, according to Oesch.

There’s a small office above the bovine below where Tom and his team can quickly see, sort and digest all the information the activity trackers gather.

“I can sort the cows based on production,” he said.

Other information in the dashboard includes how fast the milk flow was and how much time there is between each visit to the milking station.

Each nugget of information is important, and could show if a cow is possibly sick or performing better than average.

Oesch can also access the dashboard on his phone. All of this saves his staff from having to disrupt the cows with inspections.

“You don’t have to be out disrupting the cows walking through and looking for who is limping and who is laying down and hasn’t moved in a few hours,” he explained. “We’ve seen a real benefit to their health and everything else because they’re just being cows.”

SwissLane Farms still has a milking parlor and more than a thousand cows without activity trackers. The trackers are made by SCR and distributed by Lely, a company that makes the robot for milking. The activity trackers run about $150 a piece.

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