Up to 10% of the 31.7 million beef cows in the United States will die from calving difficulty. This creates a financial burden on producers throughout the cattle industry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Libby Martin, a second-year MU veterinary science student, founded Calving Technologies to combat this loss with innovative collar technology.
During calving season, physiological changes can overcome the pregnant cows prior to giving birth. When these changes occur, the narrow margin between life and death is often a matter of time.
Producers try to check on their cows before birth, but they often can’t locate them or asses their health issues in time for a successful delivery.
Martin has devised collars that can be worn by any pregnant cow. When a birth date approaches, the collar alerts producers on their smartphones or laptops if there is a drastic physiological change. The collar instantly reports physical data such as body temperature and heart rate for each cow for a specific time.
“We’re tracking the early onset physiological changes that someone couldn’t see," Martin said. "Our product tracks those parameters over a period of time leading up to calving so the producers have an inclusive history of what’s going on with every animal.”
These updates give producers enough time to locate and assess the cattle before it’s too late.
“We’re trying to provide preventative measures for producers to actually intervene,” Martin said.
She began noticing this issue on her family's farm in California, Missouri, when she was in high school.
“Growing up, I was used to seeing a lot of our cows struggle during calving season," Martin said. "When I say calving difficulties that just means maybe the calf was malpositioned inside, or the cow was under some sort of distress.”
She began research and product development for the Calving Technologies collar when she was an undergraduate at MU.
“I called vets, different farm stores trying to figure out if there was something we could do on our farm to suppress the problem," Martin said. "Come to find out, no one knew of anything.”
Although there are similar products on the market that track physical cattle health, Calving Technologies is specific to beef cattle. It is secured to the cow’s neck instead of a tail mount or head strap.
In addition, Martin's collar does not require the large infrastructure system that other products require because it is meant for cattle on pasture and not those under supervision, as on dairy farms.
The collar is currently in Phase 2 of testing and data analysis. Martin said the company is poised to move forward with a data launch test across seven different states next calving season.
Although right now, Calving Technologies is focusing on a national market, Martin sees a demand for the product and an upgraded producing system oversees.
"I really think there is a need for it worldwide," she said. "I think it’s really important as we move forward to create sustainable agricultural practices.”
Women like Martin are paving the way for the next generation through the power of technology.
Caroline Sicht, who has a master's degree from MU, is also trying to impact agriculture through technology.
Sicht was born and raised on a cattle farm in Ashland and founded a digital platform called "The Farm Story" on Instagram.
Growing up, Sicht said she was surrounded by the traditional practices her father taught her. She wants to use newer innovations in the future and said she was impressed by Martin's technology.
"The ag world is interesting because there's a lot of farms like ours that have older generations running it right now," Sicht said. "But in the next five, 10, 15 years, those hands are going to change."
Through The Farm Story's online presence, she tries to inspire and teach others in the agricultural industry to be confident in starting more conversations about agriculture and telling their farm stories to consumers.
"It is now our job as agriculturalists and as consumers to educate people about our operations," Sicht said.
With the power of social media, farm management and practices can receive more exposure when farmers learn to tell their own stories.
"One of the biggest challenges I think our industry faces today is consumer perception," Sicht said. "There are people out there more than ever now who want to know where their food come from."
So, Martin and Sicht are both making strides in the cattle industry and in the agriculture industry as a whole, one idea at a time.