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The Virtual Cow
2009-09-16

As the farming industry focuses ever closer on dairy cow health and welfare, it is fitting that Holstein UK – the breed society for the black and white dairy cow – has launched an innovative educational and breeding tool which has the potential to transform understanding of the form, movement and condition of the milking cow.

Virtual Cow

Virtual Cow

The computer-generated Virtual Cow is said to be a ‘fully interactive 3D version of the much loved model cow’, which has been developed for use through a web-based interface and is the only fully interactive 3D model dairy cow of its kind anywhere in the world.

The Virtual Cow graphically illustrates differences in conformation between cows with various classification scores, and instantly responds to signals from the user by growing, shrinking or changing shape accordingly. It can be viewed from a variety of angles; is accompanied by a written description of how and where each trait is measured; and also demonstrates a range of body condition scores as well as actual cow locomotion.

“The program has been developed with education firmly in mind,” says the society’s head of research, Lucy Andrews, who – together with head of breed development, John Gribbon – has been the driving force behind its development. “It is already being used by universities, agricultural colleges and other educational establishments in the UK and overseas.”

For farmers and others interested in bull selection, it has the added benefit of relating each trait to the linear type profile for a bull – commonly expressed as a bar chart – so aiding bull selection and breed improvement across the national dairy herd.

“Improving the Holstein and Friesian dairy cow has been the society’s foremost objective since its foundation back in 1909,” says Miss Andrews. “As a result, the dairy cow of 2009 bears little relation to her forebears early last century, most notably seen through her infinitely improved udder conformation.

“It is vitally important that agriculture students of every age develop their understanding of the breed and the traits which should be carried forward to continue with these improvements,” says Miss Andrews. “This will ensure the black and white cow has the constitution to lead a long, comfortable and trouble-free life.”

Launched to coincide with Holstein UK’s centenary year, the Virtual Cow is now freely available to society members through Holstein UK’s main and young members’ websites (www.holstein-uk.org and www.thehyb.co.uk). A short demonstration of the software is also freely available.

“When learning about dairy cow conformation, there’s no substitute for having the real animal in front of you,” continues Miss Andrews, “but this is not usually possible in the classroom or home situation, where the cows or the expertise to define their traits may not always be to hand. However, with the Virtual Cow, this can be done consistently, reliably and with pin-point accuracy.

“This clearly has an important role in widening understanding of this very important facet of dairy cattle breeding and welfare, and we are extremely pleased with the worldwide interest we have had to use this product under licence.

“No other computer generated model in the world delivers the equivalent level of detail and interactivity, and Holstein UK is delighted to be at the forefront of this innovation within the farming industry.”

The Virtual Cow will be showcased this week at the Dairy Event and Livestock Show in Warwickshire on 16-17 September. Cattle Sheds 11/12, stand 633.

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