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Arizona Dairy Farm Uses Cow Pedometers To Improve Milk Production

(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
All cows on the north farm wear pedometers.

Counting cow steps is helping one Valley dairy produce more milk.

Danzeisen Dairy in Laveen is technically made up of two farms, a mile apart from each other. They’re are basically the same. They both have more than 1,000 cows. The cows get the same feed and both farms are filled with the same rhythmic clinking as the cows poke their heads through the metal fences to eat their feed.

There’s just one difference. The cows at the farm to the north wear pedometers.

"Every single cow’s step is monitored," said Kevin Danzeisen. When he was growing up on his family’s farm, people were hardly wearing pedometers, let alone cows.

Last summer the family started strapping the orange and red bands to the legs of their cows.

"By knowing how many steps that cow has taken, we can get all kinds of information and we can take care of the cows better and better," Danzeisen said.

But unlike people, the pedometers are not motivating the cows to take more steps. Rather, the data from the pedometers informs the farmers about the cows’ health. 

Although they do spend a lot of time standing here and eating, the cows take an average of 1,200 steps per day.

Danzeisen said deviation from that average tips him off that something is up.

"The old­fashioned way, you walk in and when a cow kind of looks a little sick or whatever, you bring her in and treat her and make sure you got the right treatment," he said. "But with these new data points we can find those cows before they ever show any signs of it."

Just by looking at the number of steps they walked that day. If a cow is walking less than normal, Danzeisen said, she might have a problem with a hoof. If she’s constantly standing up 

and laying back down at night, she probably has a stomach ache. And once a month, she’ll start walking a lot more than normal.

"When a cow shows that she’s in heat, we will breed her artificially," Danzeisen said.

And that’s the key to running a dairy: know when to breed the cow so she’ll become pregnant and produce milk.

It can be tricky to get the timing right, though, and farmers only get one chance every month with each cow. But the pedometers send in data every 15 minutes, making it clear when cows start moving around more, a clue that they’re approaching that time of the month.

"And so we can dial in specifically when, about to the hour, when to breed her," Danzeisen said.

Does the timing really make that much of a difference? Remember, the Danzeisens have two farms, one with and one without pedometers. This allows them to compare the new technology with the traditional method, in all seasons, under all conditions.

Danzeisen said it’s too soon to put an exact number on it, but he has noticed more pregnant cows at the farm to the north.

"We think that we’re going to bump it up about 20 percent which is really, really significant," he said.

Unlike people, the cows aren’t going to upgrade to smartwatches next, but Danzeisen said embracing new technology will help the dairy as it increases its bottled milk production in the future.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect average number of steps taken by cows each day.

Updated 6/16/2015 at 8:48 p.m.

Annika Cline was born in Germany, raised in California and transplanted to Arizona. She studied at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.Cline produces and reports for KJZZ’s original production, The Show, covering stories from all corners of the Valley as well as bringing listeners a slice of their own community in the weekly Sounds of the City series.Cline also volunteers as an art instructor for foster youths and their families.