Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

July 09, 2002

U of G researchers develop system to detect cows in heat

Researchers at the University of Guelph are helping to develop technology that detects when dairy cows are in heat to allow farmers to breed their herd more efficiently and cost-effectively.

In a preliminary trial for Pheromone Sciences Corp., led by theriogenology professor Walter Johnson, researchers detected hormone-related changes through cows’ sweat by using a watch-like device with sensors.

“In the dairy industry, most of the breeding is done by artificial insemination, so estrous detection becomes very critical,” said Johnson. “The farmers are so busy, they don’t have time to stand out in the barn and watch the cows to see who’s in heat today. Cows may show heat in the middle of the night or for very short periods of time, making estrus difficult to observe.”

It’s estimated that within the North American dairy industry, an annual loss of $400 million US is directly attributable to inefficient herd reproduction management.

“If we can develop a system to help farmers detect when cows are in estrus, that’s a huge benefit to their dairy health management program,” said Johnson.

Pheromone Sciences Corp. has already developed ovulation detection technology for women. The Toronto-based biotechnology research and development company has produced a device that looks like a watch and detects ovulation in women through changes in electrical conductivity of sweat under the influence of changing hormonal levels.

Since the technology already exists, Johnson is optimistic it can be adapted for dairy cows. The design of the “watch” needs to be made sturdier to prevent the cows from shaking it off or getting too much dirt between the sensors and their skin. He and University of Guelph graduate student Ramanathan Kasimanickam have received the best results so far when the device was placed on the cows’ necks like a collar.

“We ran a test with their new sensors and it was encouraging,” said Johnson. “The data curves produced from the monitoring device matched the hormonal and observational data of the cycle of these cows reasonably well. This latest bit of information is very encouraging.”

Ovulation detection systems for cows do exist but most of them are not reliable or are too costly. “We’re looking for something that works well and is economical,” Johnson said. Even though the research is in the early developmental stages, he and Kasimanickam are optimistic that their research will provide farmers with an effective, inexpensive method of estrous detection.

Christopher Neuman, president and CEO of Pheromone Sciences said his company is “very excited about the progress we have made in extending our sensor and reporting technology into a new application with such huge commercial applications.”

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