Technology/Innovation: Cow-side computer power

Smartphone ‘apps’ are among the newest innovations for dairy producers, bringing management  power closer to the cow – whether she’s in a field, freestall or hospital pen.

By Susan Harlow

Advanced dairy computing ability and connectivity are proliferating, thanks to applications (or ‘apps’) for smartphones, like iPhones and BlackBerrys. Agribusiness is taking advantage of the technology to help staff and customers do a better job. Academia is hustling to put information at producers’ fingertips. And, producers themselves are getting in on the action, tailoring apps for their own use and, sometimes, making a business out of it.

Roger Heeg, a Dunnville, Ontario, developed SmartCow Mobile, a dairy management app to bring bringing management power closer to the cow.

Take SmartCow Mobile, a dairy management app developed by producer Roger Heeg, a Dunnville, Ontario, farmer. Heeg found recordkeeping more complicated as his herd grew.

“We’d gotten over 100 cows, so I decided paper and pen were getting tiresome and, besides, I kept losing them,” said Heeg, who farms with his father, Gerrit. “In the barn, I would see a cow in heat, take her number and look her up on the computer. Diagnosing a cow like that would be difficult, especially if you have more than 100 cows. By the time you get back to the barn, there’s another one there.”

About five years ago, Heeg began using a calculator to record data on his herd, then went on to a Palm personal digital assistant (PDA). “Slowly, I began building the app for a smartphone,” he said. “It came out of necessity – instead of running to the barn, it was handy to have the information in my hand.”

Once he’d roughed out what he wanted in the application, he took the concept to a couple of software developers. Last February, Heeg started selling SmartCow through his website for $100 ($ Canadian).

The latest app version allows him to enter cow production information into his BlackBerry. With SmartCow, he can immediately see a cow’s days in milk, whether or not she’d been bred and the date of last service. Then, if need be, he can call the AI technician on the spot.

He uses it to make notes on individual cows. “Is she limping and needs the hoof trimmer, or not cleaned and needs infusion?” he said.

SmartCow comes with a version that runs on a PC – essentially a cheaper version of herd management software. Heeg is working on versions for other smartphones, starting with the iPhone. He plans other features, including one that will allow smaller producers to store the photo and ID number of each cow.

Extension is getting in on the action. One such innovator is Roger Schmidt, computer specialist for University of Wisconsin Extension, who works in horticulture.

“We are aware it is an emerging trend and plan to offer our agriculture outreach content in a format the smartphones can use,” he said.

Using a grant from a regional integrated pest management (IPM) group, Schmidt is developing the UW-Madison IPM Toolkit iPhone app. It will have three core tools, with more to be added. Some tools will require an Internet connection; others can be used without it.

This first-generation app will have an RSS news reader for the Wisconsin IPM and Crop Manager blog, a picture gallery to help in IPM field observations and scouting, and a small but expandable publication library for off-line reading  materials from the UW-Madison IPM program and UW Extension.

“We’ll take some content already on the website and format it for mobile devices,” Schmidt said.  “Users will have more places they can read it – they don’t have to be home in front of their computer.”

Schmidt hopes to roll out the app as a pilot program in the middle of next year’s growing season, then keep track of how many people use it to gauge success. He’s got other plans, such as linking to Extension pest management videos on YouTube. “It’s another way of reminding people of what’s going on in the field,” he said.

One of the next apps will be a nutrient management calculator. Growers will be able to enter their soil type and crop rotation and get  university recommendations for fertilizer.

Smartphones offer capabilities without special apps, Schmidt said. “Farmers can just use smartphones for e-mail, taking field pictures and checking market prices on the go.”

Meanwhile, agribusinesses are busy designing specific programs to help their dairy customers – and help sell products and services. Virtus Nutrition, for example, has developed a free iPhone app to help users evaluate omega fatty acids for dairy nutrition. The Omega Value Calculator analyzes how feeding their products impacts transition cows.

Dairy Records Management Systems (DRMS), of Raleigh, N.C., which created PCDART management software, was one of the first to recognize the power of cow-side digitalization. A decade ago, DRMS came out with its first mobile application, PocketDairy, for use with the Palm Pilot.

“At the time it was the only hardware producers could use easily and was affordable,” said Phil Dukas, who developed PocketDairy. “For farmers, we find that it needs to be under $200.”

DRMS later came out with versions of the app for the Windows smartphone, and is currently working on it for Android and Apple mobile devices.

“On one hand, producers need questions answered  about the cow when they’re out there in the barn,” Dukas said. “They can look at the animals, then look at data and have that readily available.

“The other advantage is, if they enter data, they have to do it only one time,” he continued. “For instance, if they breed a cow, they enter it right there, then synchronize it to a desktop. The larger the dairy, the more important that becomes, because data entry is a significant task.”

Producers are also more likely to enter information they didn’t in the past, such as calving ease. “Once it’s stored and available, you use it,” Dukas said.

Part of Kurt Ruppel’s job as “technology leader” for Cargill Nutrition is developing apps for his field staff. “Smartphones have definitely penetrated through our field staff,” he said. “We need to take advantage of that computer power that’s sitting in their pockets.”

To decide what capabilities will be useful, Ruppel talks to his customers about their needs.

“I’m thinking about spreadsheets that could record locomotion scores or economics, or a quick and accurate resting time calculator, so you could enter the time in the milking parlor, the time to walk to the holding area, and determine if a cow is getting enough rest and if not, how much milk the producer is losing,” Ruppel explained. “Just to have that at your fingertips while walking through the barn with a producer is really, really powerful.”


SmartCow Mobile:

Dairy Records Management Systems:

• Contact Roger Schmidt, University of Wisconsin-Madison horticulture computer specialist, e-mail:

Technology/Innovation in Bigger Packages

If dairy technology is on your Christmas wish list, companies exhibiting at 2010 international dairy shows unveiled some items too big to fit under your tree, but they might fit in your dairy’s future.


DeLaval introduced its robotic rotary parlor, the DeLaval AMRTM, at EuroTier 2010, in Hannover, Germany.

According to the company, the system is best suited for herds larger than 300 cows. The first commercially available rotaries will have a 90 cow/hour capacity, with up to five robots operating simultaneously: two robots for teat preparation; two for milking cup attachment; and a fifth robot to handle post-milking teat disinfection. That system can milk a herd of 540 cows 3X per day, or 800 cows 2X per day. Producers can start on a smaller scale, with one robot for teat preparation and one robot for milking cup attachment, with a capacity of 50 cows per hour.

The entrance gate includes electronic ID, accessing pre-stored individual cow teat position information. Teats are washed, stimulated and dried, followed by teat cup attachment. The DeLaval AMRTM performs individual quarter milking, measuring flow rates, total yield, blood and conductivity. The system comes with an automatic deck flush module, including scraper blade and water jets.

For more information, visit To view a video of the system in operation, visit

BouMatic SmartDairy®

BouMatic® introduced its newest version of SmartDairy®, a fully integrated dairy enterprise management system, at World Dairy Expo 2010 and several European dairy shows. Engineered in modules, SmartDairy allows dairy operators to build a management system ideal for their dairy and style of milking.

SmartDairy® software allows control and management of a dairy’s milk flow and system operations from a single point. In the milking parlor, it manages pulsation, meters and detachers so dairy managers can evaluate cows, milk production and employee activity. Efficient cow traffic flow is achieved with SmartDairy® controls for crowd gates, stall operation, entrance, exit and sort gates. Outside the parlor, it manages and monitors milk flow through receivers, chillers and more, all the way to the milk tanker. Cow health and comfort are managed through hoof care, feeding and HerdMetrix herd management systems. For more information, visit

BouMatic also gave dairy show visitors a preview of its newest robotic technology, the SR1™ post milking robotic spray system. The SR1™ (pictured) provides speed, durability and efficiency in a compact, robotic system for post milking application of teat dips for nearly all external rotary systems.

GEA ‘Total Solutions’

GEA Farm Technologies introduced the UV Pure™ calf milk purifier at EuroTier 2010, as part of its “Total Solutions’ integrated approach to dairy automation, time management, animal health, productivity and future sustainability.

The UV Pure™ uses ultraviolet (UV) light to purify waste milk, at a lower operating cost and in less time than heat pasteurization systems. The UV light kills pathogenic bacteria, without significantly affecting nutrient value or immune factors in fresh milk.

Fully automated, it is available in several configurations to fit any size dairy operation. For more information, visit