The text message woke Vern Luther at Craik, Sask., in the wee hours. Jason Evashenko, about a half-hour north near Kenaston, received the exact same text a month later while out for a family supper.
As inconvenient as the timing was, neither minded the interruption because it meant a new calf on the way.
The producers were giving the Moocall calving sensor a test run for Canadian dealer Eric Fazakas, EF Ag Services, Regina.
Moocall is a motion-sensing device designed to be secured high on the tail of a cow expected to calve sometime soon. The sensor detects the intensity of tail movements as labour progresses and the algorithm specially calibrated for cattle triggers the notification by text and email after two hours of high activity. That’s generally about 30 to 60 minutes before calving is imminent, but could be two to three hours before a more difficult birth. A reminder is sent an hour after the first alert if tail activity continues.
“It worked 100 per cent perfect and I didn’t have to recharge it once during the month I had it here,” says Luther, who had initially been concerned that the metal cladding on the barn might interfere with transmission of the signal to his cellphone. “That’s already 10 times better to me than a camera if I’m not awake to watch it or a cow gets into a blind spot.”
He and his wife had been considering a remote camera system to monitor calving from their home in town when she came across the Moocall website and they took the idea to Fazakas.
Moocall comes to Canada from Ireland, where the idea of measuring tail movement to predict the onset of calving originated with a beef producer who is now a founding member of the company. By fall 2014, the company was pre-booking orders from farmers in the U.K., and Moocall was commercially launched from the online store in January 2015. Since then, more than 15,000 sensors have been sold to customers in 30 countries adding up to an estimated 120,000 calvings with owners on call.
The sensor and signalling technology is embedded in a water-resistant housing with soft rubber pads (removable for cleaning) to cushion it snugly around the tail opposite the vulva. A couple of clicks of the ratchet tightener on the strap is enough to hold Moocall in place without causing irritation to the tail or triggering false alarms.
Neither Luther nor Evashenko had problems with the unit popping off, slipping down or being too tight. The cows didn’t seem to be bothered by it in any way.
As recommended by the company, Evashenko did remove the unit from one cow’s tail for a few hours after it had been in place for three days or so. “I saw she was twitching her tail and thought she was calving, but she didn’t. The device knew more than I did,” he says after Moocall sent the text message when she really was about to calve.
Although both producers had only a few cows left to calve when given the opportunity to test Moocall, they say that the end and start of calving season are times when something like this would have a very good fit. Even during the busiest part of calving when they are out and about with the herd most of the day, lots of situations aside from nighttime calving come to mind when the bit of time it takes to slip a Moocall onto the tail would give peace of mind – going to the rink, a meeting, a community event, a family get-together, to help a neighbour, or for anyone who holds down an off-farm job.
Fazakas says you’ll probably get by nicely with one sensor for 30 cows or more depending on your calving schedule and system. Each Moocall can be registered to connect with two phone numbers and three email addresses. The chip in the sensor connects with Moocall servers on whichever network is the strongest (in 190 countries), but you do need to be within range of a cellular network to receive the text alerts. A weak signal is often good enough because only basic data need to be transmitted.
Moocall comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee and a one-year warranty on the electronics. Spare exterior parts, such as the rubber pads, strap, charger and cord, are available if needed.
One Moocall costs C$425 plus tax, which includes 12 months of service for the software, network connection and unlimited text notifications. After 12 months, the annual service charge is US$136 plus tax.
Call Fazakas at 306-552-6949 or go to moocall.com for more information.