Science Computer-controlled sex life of a cow More than 90 percent of dairy cows in Germany are artificially inseminated - many are equipped with sensors that monitor when they are 'in heat. The Frisian is exceptionally good-looking.
Large dark eyes, the smallest trickle of saliva hanging from her soft black nose, her sturdy legs folded under a shapely behind. She has won several beauty contests - both regional and national. Perry is surrounded by about sixty ever so just slightly less perfect Frisian cows, all calmly munching away on their mid-day pellets or dozing in the straw.
Perry's beauty is Wintjens' doing. In the s, fresh out of farming college, Wintjens decided it was time to modernise his parents' small dairy farm - tucked away in the fertile countryside of Western Germany. Wintjens, who is now in his forties, replaced the barn with larger area where the cows can move around freely. He also sold his father's bull and took a course in artificial insemination. Defrosted semen Artificial insemination has been aound since the s when scientists discovered that bull semen will survive being frozen and defrosted.
The semen is stored in nitrogen To survive in the competitive dairy market, Wintjens' cows have had to produce more milk - and breed more calves. Perry's sturdy legs are designed to support the weight of a calf and her large behind isn strong enough to make giving birth easy. The semen is stored in a blue container of liquid nitrogen in Wintjens' small office which overlooks the barn.
A cow gazes in through the spotless window as Wintjens leafs through a shiny catalogue - each page pictures a large bull in a green field and lists its genetic properties. As he pulls out a vial containing a diluted dose of semen, clouds of white nitrogen spill out of the container. He quickly closes the lid. At euros per dose - and flown in from Canada - the semen is far too valuable to waste on anything but a cow in heat.
The sex sensor On the other side of the window, Perry slowly ambles to a feeding trough in the middle of the barn and starts munching away.
When she has had her six kilograms of pellets, a small black sensor attached to her green collar sends a signal to the computerized trough, telling it to stop dispensing food. Wintjens spends euros per insemination There is a second small box on Perry's collar - the sex sensor. Bulls can smell it when a cow is in heat - but a human is less skilled in this area.
The sex sensors are there to help. Cows display various symptoms when they are ready to conceive, including restlessness and rather more obvious attempts to mount each other. Graphs and heat Farmer Wintjens trains a local football team twice a week and is reluctant to spend long nights in the barn watching over his cows for heat symptoms.
That is what the sex sensor is for. Heatime measures a cow's temperature twice a day and sends the data to a small computer. When a cow is ready to conceive, her temperature rises - as does the graph on the computer screen in Wintjens' office. And when it does, Wintjens defrosts a dose of semen. Digging in dirt Wintjens carries out the artificial insemination himself. He twists the cow's tail back, cheerfully chatting away as his entire arm disappears into her. He shrugs a shoulder as the other twists to carefully bypass the cow's intestines.
Perry ambles past again as the cow that Wintjens is inseminating snorts loudly. It is not a happy snort. It makes you wonder whether she would prefer real sex. They've never had real sex," Wintjens laughs. Even animal rights groups say artificial insemination is little different to real sex. What's more, Haverbeck and Wintjens agree that bulls don't make great lovers. They can be agressive. Monitoring every move Wintjens spent Euros on 20 Heattime collars. He is considering buying more for another forty cows.
But he may have to invest even more heavily. The next step, he says, will be to buy a computer station. The computers would monitor his cows' every move, including such things as their stomach acidity and water consumption.
He is convinced that technology is the future. As herds expand it will become harder for farmers to personally check every animal. But Schellander says sensors will provide objective information about every cow and even detect diseases before they break out. Bulls - they ain't great lovers Invest or die "Small farms with 80 or 90 cows can't feed a family any more," says Schellander. His parents were forced to close their own farm business years ago. Today, he says, farms have to expand and modernise - or die.
Soon, Wintjens will face this very choice. At , euros for 60 cows, a computer station is an investment he is not entirely sure he can handle. Naomi Conrad near the German-Belgian border Editor: