Invited review: Sensors to support health management on dairy farms

C.J. Rutten, A.G.J. Velthuis, W. Steeneveld, H. Hogeveen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

365 Citations (Scopus)


Since the 1980s, efforts have been made to develop sensors that measure a parameter from an individual cow. The development started with individual cow recognition and was followed by sensors that measure the electrical conductivity of milk and pedometers that measure activity. The aim of this review is to provide a structured overview of the published sensor systems for dairy health management. The development of sensor systems can be described by the following 4 levels: (I) techniques that measure something about the cow (e.g., activity); (II) interpretations that summarize changes in the sensor data (e.g., increase in activity) to produce information about the cow’s status (e.g., estrus); (III) integration of information where sensor information is supplemented with other information (e.g., economic information) to produce advice (e.g., whether to inseminate a cow or not); and (IV) the farmer makes a decision or the sensor system makes the decision autonomously (e.g., the inseminator is called). This review has structured a total of 126 publications describing 139 sensor systems and compared them based on the 4 levels. The publications were published in the Thomson Reuters (formerly ISI) Web of Science database from January 2002 until June 2012 or in the proceedings of 3 conferences on precision (dairy) farming in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Most studies concerned the detection of mastitis (25%), fertility (33%), and locomotion problems (30%), with fewer studies (16%) related to the detection of metabolic problems. Many studies presented sensor systems at levels I and II, but none did so at levels III and IV. Most of the work for mastitis (92%) and fertility (75%) is done at level II. For locomotion (53%) and metabolism (69%), more than half of the work is done at level I. The performance of sensor systems varies based on the choice of gold standards, algorithms, and test sizes (number of farms and cows). Studies on sensor systems for mastitis and estrus have shown that sensor systems are brought to a higher level; however, the need to improve detection performance still exists. Studies on sensor systems for locomotion problems have shown that the search continues for the most appropriate indicators, sensor techniques, and gold standards. Studies on metabolic problems show that it is still unclear which indicator reflects best the metabolic problems that should be detected. No systems with integrated decision support models have been found. Key words: automated
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1928-1952
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • automatic milking systems
  • clinical mastitis detection
  • economic decision-making
  • lactating holstein cows
  • somatic-cell count
  • estrus detection
  • electrical-conductivity
  • bovine-milk
  • subclinical mastitis
  • ruminal ph


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