"Fitbit" Cattle Trial Conducted at Ohio State Beef Center

CQUniversity Australia PhD candidate, Anita Chang, recently completed a trial at The Ohio State Beef Center, located at Don Scott Field. The trial, part of Chang's dissertation research, was focused on detecting parturition in beef cattle using accelerometer ear tags (essentially like a Fitbit for a cow). She utilized two accelerometers – one research grade and one that is commercially available, to determine if it was possible to measure the changes in behavior that is associated with calving.

Calving is a key driver of productivity and profitability in both dairy and beef enterprises. During this critical period, however, a number of complications can occur, resulting in poor welfare outcomes for both the cow and calf, and reduced productivity and profitability for the farmer. Traditional methods of monitoring cattle for calving require skill and experience and is often time consuming.

"MyEar tags utilized in the trial research is focused on using technology (like Fitbits) to detect calving activity and to infer the calf’s health from the mother’s behavior," said Chang. "In doing so, producers gain a greater amount of information on the status of their cows and calves so they can improve on both productivity and welfare outcomes."

Chang's research is primarily focused on trying to detect calving in extensive, ranch-like environments where producers may not see their cattle on a regular basis. Much of the research that has previously been conducted investigating parturition, using sensor technology, has been conducted in a dairy environment.

"Conducting research at The Ohio State University’s Don Scott Farm provided a more intensive cow management system, where I was able to get an in depth understanding of how beef cattle behave around calving," Chang said. "Because the animals were housed in pens, I was able to get the very fine details of beef calving behaviors, which is impossible to do in Australia on our research station, where just finding the cows proved a daily challenge."

Chang's research is unique in that she is not only looking for health indicators of a calving cow, but also the health of the calf itself. She added, "We are looking for small details, like how vigorously Monitoring trial cattleand the length of time for which the mother cow licks the calf immediately after it’s born. A healthy cow might be licked by the cow for 5 minutes before it tries to get up to suckle, while a calf that is less vigorous might be on the ground for longer."

In addition to Chang, additional researchers on the trial included Dr. Mark Trotter (Associate Professor, CQUniversity), Dr. Alvaro Garcia Guerra (Assistant Professor, Department of Animal Sciences, Ohio State), Dr. Martin Mussard (Beef/Sheep Operations Manager, Ohio State) and Gregg Fogle (Sheep Center Manager, Ohio State). The collaborators hope to utilize the results from the trial in future research publications. Dr. James Kinder, professor in the Ohio State Department of Animal Sciences, is also an adjunct professor at CQUniversity and helped to facilitate the trial between the two universities.