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CCFB News» March 2020

At The Farm Gate"Calving Cameras Intend to Simplify Season"

03/01/2020 @ 10:10 am | By Joanie Stiers

How we care for our farm’s small herd of beef cows gives off a nostalgic vibe: The lineage of the cows traces back to Grandpa’s herd. Cows give birth to calves in the shelter of a century-old barn. Hedge posts harvested from the farm frame the pasture fence, and we paid the local FFA chapter to build the feed bunks in the cattle lots.


I love all that old-fashioned charm but share equal excitement with some modern technology about to bless a barn that predates electricity. Soon, a cellular hot spot and motion-sensing cameras will monitor activity in the calving pens. The men who built that barn in the early 1900s would have passed me off as kooky to tell of such a thing.


This quality-of-life improvement means my dad can use his smartphone to view live video and hear live audio from the calving pens while in bed at midnight. In fact, he can view the barn’s activities from any place in the world where he has phone reception. He used to pull on the coveralls and boots to enter the chilly night to check cows with behaviors that signaled an imminent birth. He still may lose sleep during calving season, but only when the activity on his phone warrants it.


Tech-savvy cattlemen and women adopted this technology years ago, and we’re late to the luxury. I don’t expect these calving cameras to trump machinery auto guidance, my dad’s favorite farm invention of his lifetime. But, fingers crossed, the system makes his top 10 list.


The potential impact extends to all of us in the family, kids included. Between afterschool activities and homework, the kids can check calving action from my phone, keeping them connected to the farm when middle school schedules sometimes limit it.


I remember those impressionable moments of my childhood when I watched Dad or Grandpa milk a cow to feed colostrum to a newborn calf struggling to nurse. On occasion, they pulled calves, assisting the cow with a difficult birth. I learned the reality that a few didn’t make it. Yet, I witnessed healthy calves taking their miraculous first steps within just 20 minutes of birth.


Now, modern technology makes this viewing experience accessible miles from the barn.


About the author: Joanie Stiers’ family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle and backyard chickens in West-Central Illinois.

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