Many people turn to activity trackers like Fitbits or smartwatches to track their fitness and wellness goals.
We caught up with two farm families who love their Fitbits (their cows do too).
Becky Akins calls Five Mile Farm in Lisbon, NY home. Becky and her husband Mark work alongside their grown children Ryan and Allison. In addition to the farm’s 500 milking cows, they raise beef cattle, produce maple syrup, and sell sweet corn. That means they are moving a lot.
New England Dairy: When did your family start using Fitbits?
Becky Akins: Our family purchased Fitbits in July 2015 as part of a health awareness initiative with our co-op (Cabot). We all continue to track our steps and set personal goals.
New England Dairy: On average, how many steps do you take during a full workday on the farm?
Becky Akins: Ryan and Mark average 14,000 steps daily. Some days they have 5,000 steps in before breakfast! Recently, Mark took 22,000 steps in one day.
New England Dairy: So your cows have “Fitbits” too? What is that all about?
Becky Akins: We have CowManager tags for our cows which are basically a cow equivalent Fitbit or smartwatch. This technology tracks the amount of time the cows spend eating, ruminating, sleeping, walking, high activity, and the cow’s temperature. This information is sent to a computer and is viewed by our family, the herdsmen, veterinarians, and nutritionists.
New England Dairy: What are the most important things to monitor?
Becky Akins: Everything is important. How healthy our cows are is a priority for everyone on the farm. By monitoring daily habits of the cows, we can diagnose problems several days before they visually appear.
New England Dairy: How many cows have them?
Becky Akins: 300 cows have CowManager tags. About a week before a cow is due to have a calf, she will receive a tracker.
New England Dairy: When did you get the trackers for the cows?
Becky Akins: We got CowManager tags for our cows in July 2015. It was also the same time we got Fitbits for our family!
The Akins Family uses “earring style” activity trackers for their cows. There are several different activity trackers and styles for a farm to choose from.
Ryan Akins with cow wearing Fitbits (orange tag on cow’s ear)
The Manning Farm in Swanton, VT uses trackers that fit on their cow’s ankles. We also spoke to the Manning family to learn about how they track their cow’s activity.
Manning Farms is home to Robert and Sandy Manning, their son David, his children Rebecca, Nick, and Oliver, and grandchildren Ryland and Regan. It has been a family operation ever since it began with Robert’s grandfather, Gerald Griswold about a century ago. They have plenty to do with 700 cows (360 of which are milked) and 1,200 acres.
Rebecca Manning Howrigan gave us the scoop.
New England Dairy: What type of activity trackers do your cows use?
Rebecca Howrigan: GEA pedometers that fit around the ankle.
New England Dairy: What is the most important thing to monitor?
Rebecca Howrigan: It’s all important! We will monitor laying time by cow groups, as well as individual cows. It is very helpful used together with step count on individual cows. As you would expect with people, if a cow isn’t feeling well, she will not be walking as much and will be laying down more. My computer has an algorithm that will alert me when a cow reaches an “attention” threshold.
Another important data point to look at is how many times an individual cow gets up and down. I want a cow to eat a good meal and lay down for a lengthy period. If she is constantly up and down, it is a hint that she isn’t feeling well.
New England Dairy: What is the average daily step count for your cows?
Rebecca Howrigan: The average daily step count for our cows is around 3,000.
See an example of data from the Manning’s cows:
New England Dairy: How many steps do you usually take in a day?
Rebecca Howrigan: I was really excited to get a Fitbit for Christmas a few years back. On the first day, I had already walked 6,600 steps before 9 am. By the end of the day, I had put in over 20,000 steps!
This is an older blog post that has been republished. Originally published in 2017.