Producer’s key to calving is only a click away with camera system

Calving cameras promise to de-stress the most stressful weeks for livestock producers


By Alexis Stockford, Manitoba Co-operator (Canada) 

September 10, 2019


Colin Palmer no longer fits the image of the sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden beef producer when calving starts — despite having more than double the cattle he did a decade ago.


Instead, he is losing fewer calves, spending less money on gas and steps off his farm near Saskatoon more lightly in spring, since he can pull up a live stream of his cattle any time he wants.


Palmer is one of many livestock producers who have installed “cow cams,” technology that allows him to tag difficult births before they become critical, get calves out of the elements quicker and avoid the constant anxiety and late-night slogs to the calving pen so familiar to anyone who grew up raising livestock.


Why it matters: Cattle surveillance systems can make stock farms more labour efficient, decrease calf losses and improve farmyard security, and Manitoba livestock specialists say they expect to see much more of them.


Those stresses came to a head on the Palmer farm around 2010. Both Palmer and his wife were holding jobs off farm, as well as managing their 40-head herd. Palmer had actually spent past calving seasons sleeping in a shed beside the calving pen (prior to the family moving to their current house on the yard site), while also running back and forth between the yard and his job at the University of Saskatchewan during the day. In one memorable calving season, Palmer estimates he spent about $800 in gas thanks to the constant trips.


“We had lots of cold spring weather,” he said. “We were getting up every two hours at night to go out and check cows calving and then I was leaving to work 27 kilometres away.”


Palmer soon decided that something had to change. Security cameras were not totally novel — he knew fellow producers already using the technology — but Palmer had always assumed they would be cost prohibitive.


Eventually, however, the strain won out. Palmer and his wife invested in a $1,700 fixed-view camera system with two cameras.


The issues of that early system, however, soon became apparent. The system allowed them to watch from their house, but did not allow the versatility that Palmer was looking for, and while it set a watch over small areas, multiple cameras were needed to view a larger area since the cameras could not move, and the camera could not adjust to accidental position shifts from wind, impacting image focus. The family used the system for only a single year before they were once again in the market for cameras.


Palmer ended up finding a surveillance firm in Saskatoon, and going in for a consultation. Eight months later, he bought his first camera system capable of tilting, panning and zooming for about $1,900.


“Before we had cameras, we’d have, sometimes, a set of twins. (The cow) would own one and the other would be walking around and then she wouldn’t want to take it. It had been half a day, so we’d have lots of trouble with that twin,” he said. “Now we catch them really early.”


The farm loses “very few calves,” outside of the occasional birth defect or stillbirth and the cameras have helped him cut down on frozen ears and tails, he added, “especially in the early part of the calving season.”


Cows that start calving outside are usually allowed to finish outside, something Palmer says avoids prolonging a birth if a calving cow is disturbed, but now the humans are in place to swoop in and get the pair out of the elements once the cow finishes bonding with the calf.


He can now read ear tags from up to 140 feet away, allowing him to keep running tabs on which cows have calved, and the cameras allow his family to time a birth, and to check on a cow if half an hour has passed with no progression in calving.


Less losses ...


Eye spy at MBFI ...


A growing trend ...


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