New technology in farming has been developed to give farmers some very detailed information about the current condition of their cows. According to an article in The New York Times, a system has been developed to track exactly when a cow is in heat.
The system works by way of a heat detector, a small sensor, which is implanted in the cow’s genitals and a motion sensor, attached to the cow’s neck, which measures movements made by the cow. The results of both sensors combine using an algorithm which determines whether or not the cow is in heat. If the results indicate that the cow is in heat then an SMS is sent to the farmer. A SIM card is affixed to the cow’s sensory collar so that the farmer can pay for the text messages.
Although, the development can give rise to any number of jokes about cows “sexting” their farmers, the truth is that the current conditions of cows in countries like Switzerland and Scotland where the technology is being tried out is no laughing matter.
In Switzerland, dairy cows are under so much stress to produce greater quantities of milk that they are showing a decline in signs of heat. Animal activists have voiced concerns with respect to the increasing stress put on the cows to produce more milk. Veterinarian Samuel Kohler told The New York Times, “With greater productivity there is a drop in reproductive activity.” The managing director of the animal rights agency, Tierschutz, told the Times, “The real problem is the cows’ not showing signs of heat, and this is linked with the demands made on cows to produce ever larger quantities of milk.”
The development of this technology has been a shock to some who view Switzerland as having some of the strictest animal rights laws in the world. Unfortunately, even the Swiss conscientiousness towards animal rights does not, in the farmer’s view, seem to trump human financial concerns. The decrease in global prices of milk coupled with the decrease in milk production by cows is affecting many farmers’ bottom line.
But it is not all bad. According to an article in The Telegraph, similar technology used in Scotland also helps monitor the health conditions of cows more easily. The argument is that the tracking of the behavior of cows and the monitoring of body temperature also helps give farmers a heads up when something is not quite right. According to the Telegraph, the technology can measure when a cow’s hind legs are beginning to lower, which can indicate an early sign of illness. One farmer compared the device to having a staff member working round the clock.
It seems the new technology is at best a mixed blessing. Although it provides better accuracy and more in depth real-time data with respect to a cow’s health and productivity, the reasons why this technology is needed should make us question whether there is anything that can be done to relieve the strain on cows that has brought this crisis about in the first place.