By James Hall, Consumer Affairs Editor
Using the same 3D motion sensors found in Wii computer game consoles, the ‘intelligent’ collars pick up subtle changes in the cows’ movements and behaviour.
The collars then send a text message to the farmer’s phone or computer using the wireless 3G network.
The technology is saving farmers dozens of man-hours a week that would otherwise be spent closely monitoring each cow. It also saves them hundreds of pounds in vets’ bills by allowing them to deal with cows’ illnesses before they get serious.
Emma Vance, who runs a farm with her parents in Wigtownshire in South-West Scotland, has fitted 80 of the £75 collars on her herd of 150 Holstein cows.
“It is like having an extra member of staff 24-7,” said Ms Vance, who has been using the collars for around six months.
Accurate measurement of when a cow is on heat can vastly increase the pregnancy rates – and therefore profitability – of a herd.
Ms Vance said: “For every day that a cow is not pregnant, it costs the farmer £5. These collars mean that you don’t miss a pregnancy window.”
Computer chips in the collars contain an algorithm of the behaviour of thousands of cows, against which the wearer’s movements are benchmarked.
The devices have been jointly developed by The University of Strathclyde, supermarket William Morrisons, and the Scottish Agricultural College, as well as agricultural and technology groups NMR, Harbro, Well Cow and Embedded Technology Solutions.
The Government-backed Technology Strategy Board has given a grant towards the £1.4 million project to develop the technology.
David Evans, head of agriculture at Morrisons, said: “The future of farming is extremely important to us as a business, as is animal welfare. This technology can help secure it be allowing farmers to monitor the health conditions of individual cows far more easily and accurately.”