Big Data

IoT for cows: 4 ways farmers are collecting and analyzing data from cattle

IoT devices, especially in the form of wearables, have long been used to track human activity. Now, they're used to monitor cows. Here's how sensors and software are collecting data for farmers.

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At Hemdale Farms, Lely Astronaut robots are used to milk cows — and collect data.

Image: Hemdale Farms


In the age of the digitized human, with smartphones, tablets, and fitbits tracking our every move, we have become used to the idea of data points monitoring our behavior. And, in fact, Gartner has projected that there will be 25 billion IoT devices on the market by 2020. But did you know that these devices apply not just to humans but to... cows?

In the field of "agritech," internet-connected devices are helping increase productivity and monitor the health of crops and livestock. Here are four ways that the "IoT for cows" works.

1. Cattle movement

To monitor cows' locations and prevent potential theft of cattle, the UK company BT has been working with the National Trust on technology that can pinpoint where its cattle have roamed.

2. Fertility

Cows have a small window of time when they are in heat—it can be as little as eight hours a month. The Moo Monitor detects health and fertility of cows—ranging from single cows to groups to herds—to ensure that this critical window is accounted for. The information can be collected through sensors at a 1,000-meter range, and is connected to a mobile device.

3. Behavior

The product Silent Herdsman, developed in collaboration with the Scottish government, is a neck-mounted sensor that tracks the activity of cows throughout the day. It sends information—such as eating behavior and health issues—to farmers after a cow crosses a designated Wi-Fi point. The cloud-based information is sent to computers, and can also be accessed via smartphones or tablets. It's currently being used on hundreds of dairy farms across Europe.

4. Lactation

In upstate New York, Hemdale Farms uses 19 Lely Astronaut robots to milk more than 1,000 cows, making it the second-largest robotic milking production in the US. The robots can increase milk production by allowing cows to "choose" when they would like to be milked, resulting in increased milking sessions. Beyond that, the machines have another important purpose: Collecting data. The cows are equipped with IDs and transponders, which can track when they are ready to produce more milk. If a cow is eligible for increased production, dairy workers can alter their diet to include a sweet-coated grain, which assists in lactation.

SEE: The Internet of Things: Connected animals (ZDNet)

This kind of software, said Dale Hemminger, the founder of Hemdale Farms, means he's getting a lot of data from the cows. In fact, thousands of data points are collected daily, fed into a computer system, and analyzed to provide information on the health of the cows. Every day, said Hemminger, the computer spits out a list of the cows that are "outside of parameters," in terms of health, so "we know who might be coming down sick."

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About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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