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Researchers Develop App that Could Save Cattle Lives, Farmers’ Wallets

Posted August 20, 2013

Each year, overheated cattle cost farmers more than $1.2 billion. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have created a smartphone application that can detect when a cow is at risk for heat stress. The app also can offer the best methods for intervention.

The app calculates an animal's Temperature Humidity Index and changes color depending on an animal's severity of heat stress.

The app calculates an animal’s Temperature Humidity Index and changes color depending on an animal’s severity of heat stress.

“Cows are like the rest of us,” said Don Spiers, professor of animal sciences at MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, who led the team that developed the app.  “They slow down in hot and humid weather. When stressed by too much heat, they stop eating, and thus, fail to grain weight or produce milk.”

The app, ThermalAid, receives temperature and humidity data from the weather service according to the GPS location of the user. The farmer can then enter information including: whether a cow is beef or dairy, outside or in a barn, on the pasture or in a feed lot, sick or healthy, and other information. With this information, the app then calculates the animal’s Temperature Humidity Index (THI). If the THI for a cow is normal, the app’s indicator glows green. If a cow is experiencing heat stress, the color changes to yellow, orange or red, which indicates a life-threatening condition.

“In addition to the THI, the app also measures each cow’s respiration rate, which is a good indicator of heat stress impact on the animal,” Spiers said. “The app has a built-in timer that can assist the farmer to record the respiration rate to determine if their cows are suffering from the heat.”

Through the app, farmers also have access to ThermalNet, a database that provides additional climate and weather data, as well as detailed tips to manage heat stress in livestock. ThermalNet also allows users to communicate with experts at MU’s Division of Animal Science.

“With access to ThermalNet, farmers have a very useful resource at their fingertips,” Spiers said. “For example, say that a farmer doesn’t know how to deal with a particular type of heat stress. This database will allow the farmer to identify different intervention methods to improve animal welfare and performance to potentially help save a cow’s life.”

Currently, the research team is hoping to partner with potential businesses to develop and market the new app and produce reasonably priced sensors that send more specific information on the animal’s environment and thermal status to the app.

ThermalAid is currently available for purchase in the Apple App Store and will be available in the future in the Android Market.

Source: University of Missouri

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