Farmers across the country lose more than $1 billion each year because of heat stress among cattle.
A team from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources sought a solution to this, thus creating the mobile phone application ThermalAid.
After two years of development, a group of animal science, journalism and computer science students led by environmental physiology professor Don Spiers launched the app.
“Farmers know, ‘OK, it’s hot out,’ but they really don’t know how to make any more decisions as far as how to deal with their animals and the level of heat stress they’re at,” Spiers said. “They really need that information in order to make more precise determinations of what to do with their animals and how to treat them. That’s what (ThermalAid) was designed to do: Put it in their hands.”
ThermalAid takes information from the nearest weather station and uses equations to calculate the Thermal Humidity Index (THI), which assesses the level of heat stress on animals. Depending on the severity of heat stress, ThermalAid’s background will change from green to orange to red. The app also features a manual setting, in which users can find heat stress by zip code.
“Literally, you could sit here in Columbia and check on your animals in another part of the country,” Spiers said. “If you’re traveling and you want to see how your animals are doing, you can do that by just putting in a different ZIP code.”
The department will give a presentation at the Missouri Tech Expo on Sept. 19, and Spiers said they hope to gain investors to produce modules to work as extensions of the app. The modules would take environmental readings, allowing users to find THI for specific locations.
“The whole issue with this is to make these devices cost-effective, to make it cheap enough so that anybody can afford them and it’s not going to break the bank,” Spiers said. “There are sensors out there now that cost anywhere between $50 and $200. People aren’t going to use that in a routine way with their animals.”
In addition to detecting heat stress, ThermalAid also offers farmers tips for dealing with heat stress through its website, ThermalNet. The website acts as a link between farmers and experts, allowing farmers to ask direct questions and share information with the department of animal sciences. Spiers said the goal of the site is to create a network of farmers and experts.
“We’ll put the producer in touch with us,” Spiers said. “That will allow us to use some of their information, with their permission, so that we can make better predictors of stress in their own particular breeds of animals, but that also they can send questions to us that we can respond to.”
After receiving more than 400 downloads of its app, the department plans to expand the app to include horses, swine, goats and sheep, potentially even humans. ThermalAid is available in the iTunes App Store and is set to be released for Android devices in the near future.