Someday, your phone will be able to talk to your fridge, letting you know when you're low on milk. But wouldn't it be cooler if you could know everything about the cow your milk came from?
We're not quite at that stage yet. But dairy farmers are getting an enormous boost from data and analytics as a result of new technology that helps them track detailed information about their entire herd, down to the individual cow. That technology is boosting milk yields, preventing illness and — for the ranchers — increasing profits.
Much of the research into cow tech is taking place in Britain, where efforts to track cattle have resulted in a number of experiments. One, such as the Scotland-based Silent Herdsman, uses wireless collars to transmit data about a cow's estrus (reproductive) cycle back to a computer. The data can be read from a mobile device, or loaded into an Excel spreadsheet or integrated with other herd management software. With better information, ranchers can determine when each cow is ready to be inseminated, increasing the chances of pregnancy and the amount of milk that the cow can produce. The Silent Herdsman claims it's raised milk yields on one farm by 12 percent over the course of a year.
Others, like the Essex-based Cow Tracking Project, fits cows with GPS tags that can tell herders when the cow is lying down, drinking water or out in the fields. Abnormalities in behavior get reported by computer to the farmer, who can check in on the cow personally. GPS tracking provides an advantage over radio-enabled RFID tags; farmers don't personally need to be in range to monitor their cows.
It's early but already one Dutch company has a system that streams 200 MB of data per cow per year back to the farmer. In a herd of 1,000 cows, that's 2 GB worth of information.
Cattle aren't the only livestock to be tracked this way. The U.S. Department of Agriculture was testing geolocation collars on sheep as early as 2001 — an effort that produced the cleverly titled report, "Ewe are here."
For years, we've been told about the coming Internet of Things. Little did we know it would include living, breathing animals.