Towards the 20,000 litre cow

Published on: 15 August 2014

Could monitoring the health of cattle help to double milk yields? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Dairy cows that produce 20,000 litres of milk a year, over twice what is produced today, could be a reality with research from an Exeter based company that makes instruments for monitoring the health of cattle.

Professor Toby Mottram, founder and chief engineer at eCow believes that better monitoring of the animals can lead to better health and greater milk production. He will explain all in a talk titled ‘Towards the 20,000 Cow’ at next month’s ExIST food security conference being held at the University of Exeter.

Professor Mottram said:“We believe that most Holstein cows could produce a 20,000 litres per year but management techniques and tools have not kept pace with genetic improvement.

Professor Toby Mottram. Founder and chief engineer of eCow.

He added: “I am delighted to be talking at the ExIST conference. The event will bring together local experts in food security and production. I am looking forward to the networking opportunity and the chance to talk about new technology in dairying.

In the 1950s Professor Bobby Boutflour achieved eight to 9,000 litres of milk per cow, per year with cows with unimproved genetics and he showed that management was the key to high yields and long lives for cows. Today dairy cows produce on average 10,000 litres of milk a year although the world record yield is 32,000 litres.

With eCow Professor Mottram aims to move away from the focus on genetics and use new technology to house and feed the cow to achieve her potential, and use more sophisticated monitoring and sensing equipment, to get to the next level of production.

“More milk from fewer cows is the aim, this will be more profitable and reduce our greenhouse gas and nitrate emissions” said Professor Mottram.

The company make a large pill or bolus that is swallowed by a cow and stays in their rumen. There it measures PH and temperature and transmits the data to a smart phone allowing farmers, vets and nutritionists to achieve optimum ruminal condition which leads to increased milk production, lower feed costs and healthier cows.

eCow are also working on a collar that can detect lameness and other ailments in the animal wearing it.

They are also working with University of Exeter academic Professor Richard Everson on using cameras to detect health condition scoring in dairy cows.

eCow was founded in 2007 to make the best instrumentation possible for the monitoring of dairy cows. The company was originally based at the University’s Innovation Centre where they received business support and advice, but moved into the city centre as they expanded manufacturing.

eCow Managing Director, Sam Mottram, explained: “We were based at the Innovation Centre for a couple of years and they helped us massively in terms of preparing ourselves for investment and getting us thinking in the right direction for business.“

eCow are also a SETSquared company. SETSquared, recently crowned the best University business incubator in Europe, is made up of the University of Exeter, Bath, Bristol, Southampton and Surrey, they offer companies support including business development, planning and access to investment.

Mr Mottram added: “Longer term we would be looking to take a slot on the Science Park - if it became available and if we were ready to move at that point. We would like to stay involved if we can.”

Professor Mottram began his career as a dairy herd manager in Somerset, studied engineering and was recruited to develop robotic milking at the Silsoe Research Institute where he developed develop cow breath sampling, in-line milk progesterone analysis and in 2003 the rumen pH bolus. When the Silsoe Institute closed he set up eCow with a new patent for the bolus and received some grant money to develop it further. In 2010 the bolus was in a format that worked as a product and eCow began sales.

The ExIST conference takes place on 4 September and will look at the impact of data, science and technology on food security and production. Speakers include Professor Michael Winter OBE, co-director of the Centre for Rural policy Research at the University of Exeter, Dr Pete Fallon, Manager of the Climate Impacts Modelling Group at the Met Office and Dr Mike Bushell, Principle Scientific Advisor at Syngenta plus more.

For more information please see the ExIST website.

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