Ear tag to offer lifelong ‘gapless’ cattle monitoring

A lifelong cattle-monitoring ear tag communicating behavioural changes to anticipate health and fertility issues is less than a year away for UK dairies. 

The low-cost and long-lasting ear tag is a departure from previous health-monitoring collars and tags that have been exclusively used in lactating and dry cows. 

See also: Solar-powered ear tags track livestock welfare

From autumn next year, farms are expected to be able to monitor herd/farm level changes and individual variation in health as “self-learning algorithms” track variation from normal behaviour in terms of ruminating, movement, standing and lying times, and location.

A market price is still to be decided for EarTag Life from Austrian manufacturer SmartBow, but the award-winning technology should be “comparable” to the cost of normal primary ear tags, Farmers Weekly understands.

Growth checking explained

  • Feed and water intake – links to body weight and growth performance
  • Rumination patterns – indicates stage of weaning and rumen development

Rather than spending money on a tag, data and information captured by the devices on heifer movement, rumination, heat and lying times will be marketed back to producers.

The tags are intended to last a cow’s entire life with a six- to seven-year battery and radio-frequency identification technology to authorise animals for parlour milking and feeding.

See also: Calf ear tags alert farmers to early signs of pneumonia

A SmartBow spokesman told Farmers Weekly that early monitoring of animals affects adult performance because milk intake as a calf has been linked with first lactation milk productions.

The spokesman said: “The first weeks of age are crucial in the life of a dairy cow and the health and wellbeing of the calf has an impact on future production.

“The activity pattern of calves gives information about the active and inactive phases, lying times, feeding and drinking periods and amount of water and feed intake.

“Consequently deviations from ‘normal’ individual behavior can be detected and can also be compared on group level to eliminate environmental influences.”

What does the tag measure?




Cow location

Triangulated wi-fi

Shows when cow becomes isolated and saves time finding cows to inseminate, condition score and check 


Circular motion of the ears indicated rumination length

Sudden changes can alert for sub-acute ruminal acidosis, ketosis



Individual and unique cow behavioural patterns alter when stressful situations or health problems flare up

Feeding and drinking

Time stood at water trough or feed fence

Less time eating/drinking could indicate lameness or health issues

Lying times

Triangulated wi-fi shows position and stationary cow

Herd managers will know how many hours a day a healthy cow will lie for

Heat detection

Activity measured by accelerometer and activity movements

Calving patterns and conception rates can be improved from timely inseminations without watching for heat behaviour