- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

HAVRE, Mont. (AP) - Two minutes: That’s about how long it took Heidi Nystrom to notice a newborn calf stuck in its sack, realize no one else saw the situation, and run to the barn to save the calf.

Nystrom was drinking a cup of coffee at the main house when she saw the problem on the video feed from a system of cow cameras installed earlier this year by Triangle Communications.

“I’m waiting, I’m calling, panicking,” Nystrom said.

Then she saw steam in the corner of one of the camera’s views. Her son, Kaleb, who was closest to the imperiled calf, was in the barn apartment’s shower.

That’s when she forsook her coffee and made a beeline for the barn.

Calving season hadn’t hit full swing yet at Nystrom Ranch south of Havre 10 days ago, and already seven calves had been saved from similar situations.

Several years ago, the Nystroms installed other cameras themselves, but the quality and capabilities have since improved, and Nystrom said the new multi-camera setup has made calving 100 percent easier than it used to be.

“Now that we have them, I don’t know if we could live without them,” she said.

The cameras do more than help in emergency situations.

A DVR function helps them identify which calves go with which mothers, which mothers might struggle, which calves are having trouble nursing and even shows people who aren’t involved in agriculture what calving season looks like.

The real-time feed to computer monitors in the barn’s apartment, as well as family cellphones, means that Kaleb only has to get out of bed every four hours for a check, and he looks at the screen every two hours to monitor the cows and calves. It also means that Nystrom could check in from the gym bleachers during her daughter’s basketball season.

“I think (the cameras have) completely changed our ranch operation for the better,” Nystrom said.

“More calves, more profit,” she added.

The Nystroms are part of a growing trend among ranchers who are opting for more sleep and anytime visual access to their herds.

“Everybody who has them loves them,” said Les Rispens, county executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency in Havre.

So far, this year’s mild, dry weather has resulted in the best calving season in the past five years, Rispens said, adding that some ranchers are reporting more than 100 percent calf crop, counting twins.

Some ranchers tell him they see cows better at night with the low-light cameras than they do with their own eyes and a flashlight, plus it’s nice not to have to get out of bed every four hours or so to check on cows in the barn, he said.

Because of the cameras’ ability to be checked from a wireless device, ranchers can check cows from their houses or any other place they have Internet service, which gives them mobility to do projects farther away from the calving barn.

“There’s just going to be some freedom that they haven’t had,” Rispens said.

The freedom, though, doesn’t mean ranchers won’t have eyes on their cows and calves as often. If anything, Rispens said, he expects the technology will have ranchers looking at their herds more frequently on their wireless devices, along with checking on them in person in the traditional ways.

Some ranchers are buying cameras through companies, such as Triangle Communications, that install and maintain the gear, while others are purchasing and installing cameras themselves.

Triangle recently began offering cameras as a natural extension of services to members who largely are involved in agriculture and as a way to fulfill the Smart Rural Community Showcase Award. The designation was awarded by The Rural Broadband Association in 2014 in recognition of Triangle’s work to bring technology to rural areas, said Bethany Chinadle, Triangle’s product development manager.

As part of the development of the cow cameras, crews installed the weatherproof cameras at demonstration sites - Nystrom Ranch is one - to give people a hands-on illustration of what the cameras do, as well as provide Triangle with opportunities to hone the installation process.

Since then, the demand has been driven by word of mouth, Chinadle said.

The cameras range in price and capability, with some stationary, some able to handle low light, and others able to pan, tilt and zoom. Triangle professionals perform a free site survey to help decide the best types and number of cameras for a spot, as well as where to place them.

While systems can be expensive, they also can help save ranchers money and give them peace of mind, Chinadle said. The camera’s DVR function allows ranchers to look back at film to see why a calf died or to sort out which calf belongs to which cow.

“If it saves one calf, that pays for part of the system,” she said, adding that Triangle is interested in cameras at different price points.

When the cameras are not recording livestock, they can be used to monitor comings and goings in barnyards for added security, especially if calving barns are not near a rancher’s full-time home, Chinadle said.

People can view the camera feeds practically anywhere, which makes them easy and convenient to use for people who aren’t tech savvy.

“So I think the popularity of them is growing,” Chinadle said, adding people are eager to learn more about what the cameras could do for their operations.

A common question she hears, she said, is “Can you come tomorrow?”

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Information from: Havre Daily News, http://www.havredailynews.com

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