Dairy researcher in Dumfries uses mobile phone to monitor cows in Nairobi

Published Tuesday, 18th April 2017 in Research news

Mizeck with mobile phone

For Dr Mizeck Chagunda a mobile phone means more than just access to social media.

With his device the Dumfries based dairy researcher can compare cow activity in a Kenyan herd with cattle on SRUC's Crichton Royal Dairy Research unit and it is all down to the power of IceQubes!

An internationally recognised animal scientist and agricultural development expert Mizeck Chagunda is a Reader in Dairy Science at SRUC. He and Bridgit Muasa, the PhD student he is supervising, are investigating how technologies commonly used by UK farmers can be adapted to help livestock keepers in the developing world.

They have fitted pedometers called IceQubes to the legs of cows on a University of Nairobi’s Kanyariri Farm while three other groups, back on the SRUC dairy farms in Dumfries, have been fitted with the same kit. Amongst other things it records a cow’s movement.

Mizek explains: “By monitoring the IceQube signals we build up a record of what is normal behaviour for each cow and from that we can be alerted to abnormal behaviour as well. For example a cow coming in to heat ready for mating starts to move around more, while a lame  cow will have started to move less a long time before she begins to limp.”

Bridgit muasa and ice cub


The research Dr Chagunda and Bridgit Muasa are doing is focussed on helping African farmers detect when their cows are in heat and ready to be inseminated. This is important when many small farmers don’t own their own bulls or want to use the better genetics available through artificial insemination.

Mizek added: “In the extensive pastoral systems or indeed in many UK beef herds the job of detecting when a cow is ready to serve is left to her and the bull to sort out. There are also subtle signs anyone working with cattle will spot. But on typical African dairy smallholdings farmers usually have many other jobs to get done and cannot spend the time watching their livestock. We are trying to adapt the technology used here on larger dairy herds to help the African smallholder farmers. It will enable them to get their animals into calf more regularly, which means more milk for the community and more income for the farming family”.

With experiments running on two continents Mizeck needs to keep in touch. Using his mobile he can monitor the movements of the Kenyan cows when in Dumfries or the Crichton cattle when in Kenya or anywhere else on his world travels.

Mizek said: “This is just one small example of how modern communications and data handling can help make farmers more productive. At SRUC we are involved in a range of Precision Farming projects that are using the mass of measurement and data we can collect about any farming operation to develop ways of farming more productively with less waste, better welfare and better care for the environment.”

Photo caption 1: Dr Mizeck Chagunda with cows on SRUC’s Crichton Royal Dairy Research Farm in Dumfries

Photo caption 2: Bridget Muasa in Kenya,  beside a cow wearing an IceQube device on its leg.

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