The power of ear temperature

Ear temperature is an early indicator for several health issues, and also a tool to monitor recovery.

For many dairy businesses, it’s no longer a matter of if they’re interested in using innovative technology; it’s become about making the right choice. Which smart solution will be the best choice to help them get their herd management to the next level?

From tradition to technology

When it comes to cow monitoring systems, options are endless. All systems claim to be most effective, most of them using the same core parameters for measuring herd health and fertility — behaviour, (in)activity, rumination time and eating time.

One of the more unique parameters seems to be ear temperature. But what is the added value or measuring a cow’s ear temperature? Does it really make a difference?

Back in the day, whenever dairy farmers wanted to make sure a cow was feeling well, they would feel her ears to check for a change in temperature.

Having to physically be among your herd nearly 24/7 to be able to tell if something is the matter or to spot a window of opportunity, is something we can’t imagine nowadays.

And it’s something we can’t afford to do anymore, with the number of livestock and production increasing over the past decades, while number of staff members are declining due to labour issues.

Effective diagnostic tool

Iowa State University in the United States also wondered if ear temperature would really make a difference. In 2017, they did a peer-reviewed study on monitoring behaviour as well as ear temperature.

In their study [] they focused on cow data collected by an ear sensor system at the ISU Dairy. According to the study, the evidence of ear hypothermia is an effective diagnostic tool for significant health events. Or, as they cite in their research findings, a ‘problem indicator’.

Ear temperature is not comparable to core temperature, as ear temperature experiences daily variation based on external temperatures. In winter, ear temperature never reaches freezing and during summer hot weather, never goes above 35°C to 36.67°C.

Because of this, one outstanding benefit and aspect of ear temperature monitoring is that an individual animal is tracked and graphed simultaneously with the group ear temperature average.

Whenever a cow gets an infection, the blood in the ears moves to vital organs. When tracking ear temperature, you catch this change early on, potentially saving yourself and the monitored cow a lot of problems further down the road.

Being able to measure ear temperature on a group level, combined with measuring deviations in behaviour, is one of the most effective ways to catch heat stress early.

Ear temperature as an added parameter allows farmers to assess their heat abatement strategy in a more effective way as well as spot lesser performing cows in the herd, therefore adding significant value to their herd management.

Anticipating cows’ needs

Jeffrey S. Stevenson, a professor at the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University, specialises in the reproduction physiology of the bovine.

In one of his latest articles [] he studied the added value of ear temperature in cow monitoring. He states that late gestational ear-surface temperatures were associated with some post-partum health disorders and modifications in daily eating, ruminating and active times during the transition period of gravid heifers and dry cows.

So, including ear temperature as one of the parameters in cow monitoring technology provides dairy farmers and specialists with even more precise herd information.

It’s an added layer of real-time cow monitoring and a valuable indicator for making fact-based improvements to your herd management, helping dairy professionals recognise potential issues or opportunities before they’re observable by the human eye.

From CowManager.