What makes a cow happy? Smartwatch technology could hold the answer

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Penny Silvester

Cows at a farm in Buckinghamshire are being fitted with the animal equivalent of smart watches to try and find out what makes them happy.

Farmer Neil Dyson at Princes Risborough has teamed up with researchers to monitor his 450-strong dairy herd.

He said: "We've spent lots and lots of time trying to make sure they feel healthy, but actually, how do they feel?"

"Of course they are prey animals. They're always worried that there might be a predator somewhere. We've got to find out how to make it so they don't feel scared."

The cows are now wearing animal version of a fitness watch in the form of collars and ankle tags, to see if the farmer can discover what makes them tick.

Farmer Dyson is working with Arla, the UK's biggest milk supplier based at Aylesbury.

Cows have been fitted with smartwatch technology to see what makes them tick. Credit: ITV News Meridian

The study comes amidst a growing trend in the dairy industry towards much larger herds being kept in sheds. 

Researchers plan to come up with a cow happiness score, and hopes to show that cows are content to live in their sheds all year round.

Annie Rayner, FAI Farms senior researcher, said: "We could look at practices within farming that actually promotes these behaviours if we find these behaviours to be the right ones.

"And then we can look at what we can do to make sure they do more of those behaviours through their life within the shed."

Credit: ITV News Meridian

The study could lead farms to introduce grooming and relaxation areas or install mistifiers to keep them fresh and healthy during their busy working week.

Peter Stevenson, Compassion in World Farming, said: "There is a place for technology, technology that can alert a farmer to the fact that cows may be developing lameness, but that technology should not be used to entrench a very industrial factory farming approach.

"It should used to support really high welfare outdoor farming."

Farmer Dyson said: "All cows are inside during the winter. But what we want to be able to do is, if a farmer chooses to keep their cows inside in the summer, that they have the same opportunities that they would have outside."

Whatever it takes, say farmers, to keep their herds happy.