The Anatomy of the Connected Cow
The sensors and devices giving farmers extra insight into the wellbeing of their herds
Livestock and dairy farming are relentless. In operations of all sizes the wellbeing of cows is paramount to productivity, yet it is something that is notoriously difficult to manage. Most farmers rely on outdated systems to keep track of each animal’s health and to monitor any sudden changes. However, rapid development in the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence are making it possible for farmers to keep detailed records on their animals, remotely. These devices can be placed on and in different parts of the cow (think on their tails or under the skin) to create what some call a “connected cow” and others refer to as “the internet of cows.”
EAR: Ceres Tag
Ceres Tag is a small but powerful device designed to withstand the rugged demands of the Australian beef farming industry. It is a smart ear tag which uses IoT to gather data for livestock producers and the supply chain. It aims to be the world’s first smart ear tag accredited for provenance to international traceability standards.
How it Works
Comparable in size to conventional ear tags, the Ceres Tag is a robust device which is easy to apply, but very difficult for a cow to get out. The battery of the Ceres Tag is designed to last the lifetime of the animal.
Ceres Tag monitors the GPS positioning of cattle and sends notifications to a farmer to alert them of unusually high or low activity in case of sickness or theft. It also tracks body temperature to monitor factors such as behaviour, health, biosecurity and reproduction.
Ceres Tag uses Low Earth Orbit satellite to gather data, removing the need for farmers to have farm-wide access to cell phone or Wi-Fi networks. The tag processes data to the Ceres Tag cloud platform. From there they offer an open API to existing software management systems, making it easy for farmers to integrate Ceres Tag into their current management system.
Why it’s good:
Ceres Tag are currently conducting a 100 tag trial and will soon begin a 500 tag trial. By tracking the GPS location and temperature of each animal, Ceres Tag hope that the information gathered by their tags could have positive insurance and financing implications for farmers.
Ida’s tagline, “Cows are Cool,” gives a lot of insight into the way they approach the challenges faced by the dairy industry. Driven by the impending global food crisis, Ida hope to use technology to improve the productivity of dairy farms in order to help them produce more milk.
How it Works
Ida, the Intelligent Dairy Farmer’s Assistant combines hardware sensors with a cloud-based analytics platform. It takes the form of a necklace sensor worn by each cow. The sensor can distinguish between multiple behaviours including eating, ruminating, drinking, standing, laying and walking.
Ida gathers this data and uses their machine learning platform to identify patterns in a cow’s behaviour. Ida then provides the farmer with actionable insights, alerting them when the cow may have a disease, when they are in estrus or when they are giving birth.
Why it’s good
Ida can greatly improve the reproduction rate on farms by accurately predicting when a cow is in estrus.
RUMEN: The Well Cow Bolus
The Well Cow Bolus addresses the problem of quickly diagnosing acidosis and sub-acute acidosis in cows which can reduce milk yield and affect a cow’s health after giving birth.
How it Works
The bolus, which is a cylindrical tube, is inserted orally and then goes into the cow’s rumen where a sensor in the device wirelessly records rumen pH and temperature every 15 minutes. The data which is captured can be downloaded wirelessly onto a laptop.
Why It’s Good
Procedures normally used to monitor pH are invasive, difficult to repeat and generally not suited to a working farm.
The Well Cow Bolus has been developed to work for 100 days and is easy to administer.
Farmers can use the data to optimise diets for their cattle and so improve production efficiency and ultimately the profitability of their business.
TAIL: Moocall Calving Sensor
When you visit the Moocall website you’re bound to see at least one pop-up on your screen telling you about a cow that’s gone into labour. It’s exciting stuff and according to Moocall’s many users in the UK and Ireland, their calving sensor is highly accurate and very useful.
How it Works
Moocall’s palm-sized tail-mounted sensor measures tail patterns triggered by labour contractions to predict calving.
The device then sends a text message to alert farmers approximately two hours before the main event occurs.
Why it’s Good
The calving sensor eliminates up to 7% calving mortality by making sure farmers are there to help calves get colostrum as quickly as possible and provide early intervention to difficult births and potential disease.
Moocall’s users call it a “gift from God” as it provides 24/7 monitoring and saves them wasted trips to the yard to check on pregnant cows.
LEG: AfiMilk AfiAct II – Cow Heat Detection
The AfiMilk AfiAct II is a leg tag which monitors a cow’s walking activity to accurately detect estrus and help farmers inseminate cows at the right time.
How it Works
Using IoT technology, the AfiAct II is an extremely sensitive and accurate leg tag which is used to detect estrus, anestrus, abortion, cyclic disorders and lameness in cows.
It monitors cows around the clock using long distance data collection and Wi-Fi. The AfiAct II records heat patterns throughout a cow’s lifetime and can also provide fertility indexes, conception rate per bull and per inseminator as well as calving alerts. All data is accessible from a smartphone, tablet or computer.
Why it’s Good
The AfiMilk AfiAct II saves money by improving pregnancy rates, reducing the number of open days per cow per lactation, reducing the use of hormones, minimising the amount of labour needed and the number of cow treatment events.
Other devices to check out: GYUHO SaaS (Connected Cow) by Fujitsu
UNDER THE SKIN: EmbediVet
EmbediVet was actually intended for humans. Inventor Tim Cannons created the device with the idea that it could be surgically implanted in people and used to predict illness. However, he soon found that most people aren’t interested in having things implanted in their bodies, unless they are medically essential.
Just as he was ready to give up on his idea, Cannons was approached by tech incubator Cicada Innovations who suggested that he rejig the device to be implanted in cows instead. The result was EmbediVet, an implantable health tracker for livestock.
How it Works:
The device is covered in clear resin and includes an ARM processor, Bluetooth and long-range radios, as well as a thermometer, accelerometer, heart-rate monitor and pulse oximeter for measuring heart rate, blood oxygen levels, temperature, and basic activity.
It runs on a coin-cell battery that is predicted to last for three years.
During trials run this year, the device was implanted in three cows, with two implants placed in the lower jaw and one between the ribs to determine the best positioning for the device.
The device is implanted using minor surgery, under local anaesthetic, and starts collecting data immediately.
Why it’s good:
EmbediVet measures key health metrics and reports findings back to farmers via an app.
It alerts farmers when a cow goes into heat, when pregnancy is detected or when a cow is in distress.
The app can also provide farmers with information of the quality of beef they are raising with insights into marbling and predicted finishing times.
The creators of the device think it will be more accurate than externally-worn sensors, especially when collecting data such as body temperature.
EmbediVet are trialling the device on several farms and hope to make it available to the public in March 2019.
Cainthus isn’t a wearable sensor, instead it uses machine vision and artificial intelligence to identify cows by their unique pelt pattern and facial features. It uses this visual information to keep track of each animal’s behaviour and monitor their health.
How it works:
Cainthus uses a smart camera system installed in a barn to collect video data. It teaches itself to identify each cow by their unique features.
The camera system then monitors each animal, collecting data on metrics such as water intake, feed bunker management, feed time consistency, body conditioning, feed intake, feed efficiency, sifting and sorting and aggressive eating.
This data is analysed and interpreted in Cainthus’s private cloud to provide farmers with in-depth actionable insights at cow, pen and farm level.
Why it’s good:
The aim is to help farmers improve animal health and so increase milk production.
Real-time insights allow for early interventions into health or feeding issues.
Cainthus is entirely non-invasive and eliminates the need to maintain physical devices on each cow.
We love the diversity of technology and devices becoming available to help farmers monitor different aspects of their herd. Not only do they help save time and money in the long run, but they are all aimed at putting cow health and productivity at the forefront of each farming operation.
Many of the devices currently on the market are being used or trialled on cows who spend a large portion of their time indoors. Their suitability for South African farming operations would therefore need to be tested. For example, internet connectivity and cell phone reception used by these devices to transmit data poses a significant barrier to many SA farmers. We look forward to seeing which devices find traction in the South African market and how they improve farmers’ daily lives.