Dairy farms go digital with apps from School of Veterinary Medicine

June 26, 2015 By Nik Hawkins

An iPad loaded with the Calf Health Scorer app. (Photo: Nik Hawkins)

An iPad loaded with the Calf Health Scorer app. (Photo: Nik Hawkins)

As farms grow increasingly complex and more dependent on science and technology, the iconic image of an old homesteader in weather-worn overalls is being replaced by that of a digital-savvy agricultural expert wielding a tablet.

Faculty, staff, and students at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) are making major contributions to this evolution, particularly within the dairy industry. The SVM’s Food Animal Production Medicine (FAPM) program has developed eight unique iPad applications to help meet the needs of today’s dairy farmers.

Available on the iTunes store, the apps provide a wide variety of assistance, from the Freestall Assessor app that helps guide freestall construction to optimize cow comfort and milk production, to the Group Pen Respiratory Scorer app that offers step-by-step instructions on assessing the respiratory health of calves.

“These are tools that can be used to make evaluating different aspects of dairy farming much easier,” says Nigel Cook, professor and chair in the Department of Medical Sciences. “For most of these apps, we’ve taken proven, pen-and-paper systems, which our faculty previously developed, and translated them into a portable, digital format.”

In addition to eliminating the hassles of paperwork, the major advantages of the apps include instant feedback on various measurements, immediate data uploads, long-term data storage, and analytical functionality.

“All of this can lead to greater efficiency and cost savings for dairy farms,” says Tom Bennett, a senior information processing consultant at the SVM who played a lead role in developing the apps.

Baraboo’s Karl Burgi, of Sure Step Consulting International, LLC, uses several of the apps when working with clients at dairy farms across the globe and as part of the hoof-trimming services he provides in south central Wisconsin. He says they have led to improvements on the farms he visits.

“Often you just have a feeling of what’s wrong on a farm, but the apps back it up with science,” says Burgi. “They help you educate clients by showing them the science, and they help you give recommendations to dairy producers more easily.”

The utility of the apps in client education is fitting because they began as teaching tools at the SVM and continue to play a major role in preparing the next generation of food animal veterinarians. A grant from the UW–Madison Educational Innovation initiative supported the development of teaching modules for clinical rotations in food animal production medicine for fourth-year students, as well as the purchase of 15 tablets for a mobile FAPM learning lab.

Apps were the next logical step, says Cook. “Now students use them for learning in the classroom and out in the field during farm visits. But we also wanted these apps to be available commercially for anyone who wants to use them.”

Since first launching in September 2014, FAPM’s apps have logged nearly 900 downloads in 40 countries on six continents. Proceeds from purchases support ongoing app development. Two additional apps — one for assessing and preventing lameness in cows and another for identifying and predicting an infectious hoof disease called digital dermatitis — have been developed in partnership with Zinpro Corporation, which has taken over their management.

The Apps: A Closer Look

Available through the SVM iTunes page:

Calf Health Scorer — Utilizes a graphical interface to evaluate calf health based on a scoring system developed by Sheila McGuirk, professor of large animal internal medicine and food animal production medicine at the SVM.

Freestall Assessor — Uses a pictorial guide to aid in evaluating the dimensions and construction of a dairy’s freestall design. The intent is to maximize cow comfort and, subsequently, milk production.

Group Pen Respiratory Scorer — Integrates a respiratory scoring method developed by McGuirk and Theresa Ollivett, assistant professor of food animal production medicine, as well as a pictorial guide of various respiratory symptoms, to aid in evaluating young dairy stock in group pens.

Johne’s Risk Assessor — Converts a nationally standardized system into app form to assist veterinarians and their clients with the implementation of a risk assessment and management plan designed to prevent the spread of Johne’s disease, a fatal gastrointestinal infection also known as paratuberculosis.

Locomotion Scorer — Offers multiple systems for scoring dairy cows for degrees of lameness. Includes photos, videos, and descriptions of lameness categories to help with classification. Also iPhone compatible.

Preg Calculator — Developed by Harry Momont, clinical associated professor and head of the SVM’s Large Animal Hospital, allows herd managers to input a wide variety of reproductive parameters, such as herd size and calving intervals, and then calculate the number of pregnancies needed per interval to maintain the herd. Also iPhone compatible.

Available through the Zinpro Corporation iTunes page:

DD Check — Helps dairy producers quickly identify, record, and monitor digital dermatitis lesions, and uses a sophisticated statistical model developed by Dörte Döpfer, associate professor of epidemiology, to help predict potential outbreaks of the hoof disease.

First Step — Developed in conjunction with Nigel Cook, professor and chair in the Department of Medical Sciences, provides a comprehensive assessment of lameness risk factors for dairy farms.