Remember when you thought microwaves were something you would never use and that Captain Kirk and Star Trek were beyond reality? Are you one of the Baby Boomers who claims to do without all the handheld gadgets and modern technology?  Then you are probably one of the Baby Boomers who isn’t also a farmer. Today modern dairy farmers of ALL ages are quite happy to hold the future in the palm of their hands.  They email, calculate, talk, text, video, chat and surf the web and look after calves, cows and crops with real time information and alerts that they access using their smartphones.

There are already thousands of apps which have been developed to assist in easier data recording, more accurate records, saving time and remote decision making. Dairy farmers are using smartphones or other mobile devices to increase efficiency and generate higher profits — a challenge in an industry beset by high input costs, low margins and continual uncertainty from Mother Nature.

Here’s a few Iphone, IPad and Android Mobil Phone APPS that meet farmer needs.

  • DTN/The Progressive Farmer. This robust app puts weather data, market data, grain prices, ag news and videos in the hands of the users.
  • Group dynamics: The data collected can indicate whether there is enough food available for the cows
  • PocketDairy is an Android-based app from Dairy Records Management Systems used to access herd records stored in the farm’s PCDART record-keeping system. The mobile app syncs wirelessly with the office computer that stores the records data can be retrieved anytime, anywhere.
  • PSU Dairy Cents is a mobile app offering two features – a quick calculation of income over feed costs and price comparison of various forages, grains and commodities to the Penn State Feed Price List and other users of the database.
  • Target Date calculates the amount of time between two dates.  Users can also choose to ignore weekends and holidays. This app is also useful for estimating livestock births or how many days until harvest.
  • Weather Bug gives users access to live radar, extended forecasts and weather alerts. They can also spy on the weather through more than 2,000 weather cameras located throughout the U.S. Another useful feature is Weather Bug’s GPS capabilities. It allows the app to share weather news relevant to the user’s current location.

Phone apps are appealing for farmers because of the instant access they provide to information and communication, whether from the barn, the field or on the road. The use of RFID technology is nothing new in farming, but it has traditionally been used to track animals as they move from farm to farm and into the food chain, and to prevent theft.  These recent applications however are active rather than passive – they transmit signals rather than waiting to be read. For instance, an app can let farm managers track the movement of every animal in the herd. Having such easily accessible and complete information is the perfect impetus to make management changes … save time … and save money. No wonder dairy farmers are developing app-titude!

APPs contribute to Cheaper, Safer Products

While farmers can gain immediate benefit from their smartphones and the burgeoning app market, the impact such technology holds could extend beyond the field or barnyard. It not only is helping to grow a better product and do so more efficiently, it is also helping to keep costs down and thereby benefiting the consumer too. Even more important, is that technology is contributing to providing a safer product as well. For example, consider how a robotic milker can sense through a cow’s temperature that the animal is sick. Without antibiotics, a program of separation and treatment can be initiated (without antibiotics) that keeps all of that stuff out of the food chain.  Mobile technology allows the farmer to break free of cables and cords and notebooks. Furthermore, the detail and efficiency of this small but effective technology not only helps on the production end of the spectrum but social media tools such as Twitter help in reaching out to consumers by giving them the opportunity to ask farmers questions about production. It is a win-win for both sides.  Information is available wherever and whenever -24/7.

What is the Impact?

Float Mobile Learning, a consulting firm that develops mobile strategies and apps for major agricultural organizations and Fortune 500 companies, has used previous market research to determine that 94% of farmers own a smartphone or a mobile phone. Four years ago, nearly half of American farmers were using a smartphone such as an Android or iPhone, up from 10% in 2010. Many others had tablets like the popular iPad.

What is the Difference?

Personally, I love the fact that recently a local farmer was able to watch his son compete in figure skating even though he himself was home working on the farm. Even better are the times when he can monitor the dairy herd while actually attending events where his children develop skills that he would have missed before the development of this technology.  The benefits of increased efficiency and saving money are well-documented and appreciated.  With a few touches on their iPad, a farmer can now turn on the fans remotely or observe a calving pen or have a quick check-in with the milking team.  However, even more gratifying is the way app technology contributes to solving various issues.  Perhaps it’s an animal health problem – “Hey! What does this look like to you?”  By snapping a quick photo with a smart phone and sending it to someone who can provide the answer, a speedy solution is sought and found.

The benefits of technology extend beyond the farm as well.

Farmers realize information is power in making decisions and they are quick to adapt when they see the value. Farmers are not afraid to use social media to communicate with the public and correct misperceptions or answer questions that consumers may have about agriculture. Farmers and ranchers across the country regularly turn to Twitter, YouTube and other media to compare stories, keep updated on new techniques and equipment being used and trade advice.

From Imagined Possibility to Real Time Speed

So much of the logistics of raising dairy animals happens in slow time.  The opportunity to excel comes when information can be collected and acted upon very quickly. Via real time alerts delivered to his smarpthone a dairy manager can know whether the cow is ill, or is in heat and ready to be inseminated.  Well before having to deal with full blown illness, a tracking app can let managers know two whole days before it can be seen by observation that the cow is sick.  If you can help the cows two days before, it’s money, because the cow, not being so sick, is easier to treat.  In one application, each cow wears a special collar, fitted with a wireless RTLS (real time locating system) tag.  The tags are read several times a second by sensors fitted in a grid in the roof of the barn. The data is sent from the sensors to a hub, where the cow’s every movement is collated and analysed using complex behavioral algorithms.

Coming Soon to Fingertips Near You

Software is being developed that will allow farmers to compare their operations with those of other app users. More information.  More informed decisions. Also, when Thermal Aid is released this fall, developers at the University of Missouri think they can help dairies avoid losses due to heat stress. They’ve produced a new mobile app that can detect the threat of heat stress in cows using nothing more than a smart phone. Much can be learned from Apps that track aspects such as temperature or habitual activity (laying down, sleeping, and eating). When coming into heat cattle typically walk more, socialize more … eat less due to increased activity … and therefore an app that signals these changes in behavior assists heat detection.  Likewise a lack of activity can indicate illness of lameness.

Around the World Apps are Awesome for Working with Cows

A quick surf review of the interview turns up many apps that are being used by dairies around the world.

  • Denmark:  CowView uses a type of RFID (radio frequency identification) called UWB (ultra-wideband) technology.
  • Ireland:  SmartFarm Apps – “Keep your farm in your pocket”
  • New Zealand:  Here I found numerous lists of apps. One is a Dairy Farm Grazing calculator.
  • The Netherlands: LelyT4C In Herd “Farm Management in the Palm of Your Hand”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It doesn’t come down to whether you should use Apps or not but, more importantly, the question is “Which ones?” Of course it all depends on your individual dairy needs and personal preferences. When you have that figured out, you will definitely find the right app-titude for dairying in the 21st Century.



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