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Bolus provides early health warning for dairy

Wireless signals from each bolus, each of which contain a built-in battery, are sent to an antenna in the dairy barn and from there are loaded onto a cloud platform on the internet. | File photo

Monitoring system can provide early detection of conditions such as pneumonia and mastitis via text and email alerts

A monitoring system that places sensor devices permanently inside cows aims to protect the profitability of dairy operations by allowing farmers to remotely track the health of their herds.

Cattle Scan can help provide early detection of conditions ranging from pneumonia and mastitis to retained placentas and displaced abdomens. Farmers receive warnings via text or email alerts.

“As a farmer, as a producer, you will log into your account and you will see all the information that comes from Cattle Scan,” said Denis Tokarev, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Toronto-based company. “You’ll see it on the screen, as you would for your online banking, and get access to all your accounts.”

The system involves the use of a reticulorumen sensor, or bolus, that works around the clock to provide 96 measurements per day. It is about seven centimetres long by about 2.5 cm in diameter, with a smaller version for calves.

The bolus consists of a pill-shaped, aerodynamic capsule for easier ingestion that is made of medical grade plastic. It is permanently placed in a cow’s rumen or reticulum, which are roughly the equivalent of a stomach in humans, and it is designed to last about nine years, said Tokarev.

Wireless signals from each bolus, which contain a built-in battery, are sent to an antenna in the barn and from there are loaded onto a cloud platform on the internet.

Cattle Scan monitors things such as body temperature and water consumption, he said.

“And it correlates with the environment (where) this cow lives and it sends an alarm saying, ‘this cow has temperature spikes,’ for example. ‘It’s time to go and check here.’”

A written statement by Cattle Scan said it aims to help producers avoid significant problems.

“Animal health is a major driver of productivity in the dairy sector, with losses in the millions of dollars due to health-related events and mortality.”

Most farmers mainly track their cows with visual inspections, it said.

“However, by the time visual symptoms and milk drop are present, the disease has usually progressed to a point where a higher level of treatment and medical intervention is required.”

Cattle Scan can help identify a sick cow two to three days before visual symptoms appear, catching the problem before milk yield has declined, the statement said.

As well, it can help finish cows more quickly and reduce treatment costs and mortality rates, said the statement.

The system can also monitor pregnant cows, which can assist farmers with proper timing for calving situations.

Tokarev said some farmers have installed boluses in only selected cows rather than the entire herd to receive warnings about potential problems for their herd, such as heat stress caused by ineffective fan systems during a heat wave.

Tokarev, an engineer, helped develop Cattle Scan starting in 2017 after researching new opportunities on IT solutions in agriculture.

The system includes a cloud-based web portal that allows producers to keep their herds’ health records in one place that can be easily accessed by their team. The information can also be shared with animal health professionals.

Such data could also be used to provide proof of desirable characteristics of cows for sale by farmers, said Tokarev. This could include cows with good genetics that promote both productivity and environmental sustainability, obtaining higher prices versus cows with a history of illness, he said.

“I think there is a huge potential in terms of traceability of the data because you can’t fake the data from inside the cow. You can’t change the bolus, take it from one cow to another, without killing the cow.”

About 100 farmers currently use the system, said Tokarev, who added there has been some interest expressed by cattle producers in Alberta.

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