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Tech Tips: New app detects heat stress

Beef and dairy producers who are concerned about heat stress can now access a low-cost application on their iPhone. The application will also be available for Android phones within a month. 

The University of Missouri (Mizzou) released ThermalAid, which is an application that monitors heat-related stresses on beef and dairy cattle and alerts producers when there is a health concern. The application also provides producers with a list of intervention strategies they can use to alleviate heat stress. 

Hot weather can mean big losses for the livestock industry. 

“Each summer, the dairy industry loses $900 million nationally in productivity and the beef industry loses $400 million,” according to Don Spiers, professor of animal science at Mizzou’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, who led the team that developed the application. “Cows are like the rest of us. They slow down in hot and humid weather. When stressed by too much heat, they stop eating and thus fail to gain weight or produce milk.”

App functions

For 99 cents, this application can be a great investment for producers, Spiers continued. The application uses GPS to patch into the closest weather station in the area. It downloads temperature and humidity data from the weather service. 

“It can tell producers what the weather is in their area, within reason,” he said. “Its not perfect, though.”

Spiers said users can manually enter data if they would like to or if they are in a location lacking a cell phone signal. They can also input respiration data by taking a representative sample from some of their animals. 

The app comes with a timer that can be activated while the producer counts how many breaths the cow takes, by movement in her flank area, within a minute. 

“In humid areas, when the temperature gets into the 90s, I have seen animals with respiration rates of over 100,” Spiers said. 

Once the producer inputs this information, the app will also ask if the animal is beef or dairy, whether it is in the barn or outside, if it is on pasture or in a feedlot, its health status and other general, pertinent information. 

With the information provided, the application will determine the animal’s Temperature Humidity Index (THI). The THI has three levels. Green indicates the animal is not suffering from heat stress. If heat stress is a problem, the colors range from yellow to orange to red. Red indicates a life-threatening situation.

Availability

The app is currently available for beef and dairy, although the team hopes to create ones for sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and possibly humans in the future. 

Spiers said it could be used for kids playing football in hot weather or for people with impaired health. 

“The application we have put together for beef and dairy is based on the best information we have at this point,” Spiers said. “Its not perfect. It is not specific to breed.”  

It also doesn’t take into account body weight or condition of the cow.

Continual development

In the future, Spiers said the team wants to establish a network that can communicate with producers. Eventually, they would like to have a server connected to this network that will allow producers to send in information anonymously and receive feedback. This information will allow scientists to develop better predictors of the impact heat stress has on animals. 

They are also working with a company to develop modules for temperature and humidity that can be placed around the farm or ranch. These modules would be capable of sending data directly to a producer’s phone to give them specific indicators of heat stress. 

Although they are hoping to have this technology available in the next year, Spiers said that technology is expensive, and their challenge is to produce a cost-effective product that is reliable and durable in an outdoor environment.

For more information about ThermalAid, visit thermalnet.missouri.edu/thermalaid. Spiers said this website contains more information about the product, a link to purchase the application and a link to a YouTube tutorial video producers can watch so they can learn how to use the application. 

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..