Sensor technology helps provide information on cows

A new sensor uploads data on gestation and ovulation in cows. The offering from SmaXtec is implanted in the cow’s stomach and can give data on various important points such as the acidity of the stomach, body heat, hydration levels, and movement. It is a hot dog shaped device that stays in the cow’s stomach. One customer is Austin Knowles who owns 350 acre Knowles’s Hollings Hill near London in the UK. He says the notifications from the device (which sends data through wifi) can email veterenarians long before an animal shows signs of sickness, or send the farmer SMS notifications if the cow is going into heat. “The technology takes the edge off a bit,” said Knowles.

The sensor runs on battery and has a four year power life. SmaTex is an Australian company and the offering is used in 25 countries. The device relays data to a wifi enabled base device in the livestock housing, and combines these with other data on the conditions in the shed for extra analysis capability.

The company started in 2011 and has been used in over 15,000 animals. It has been shown in research by UK academics to make significant improvements to animal health.

Knowles’s Hollings Hill is one of 350 farms in almost two dozen countries using technology from Austrian startup SmaXtec to monitor their livestock. It works like this: A weighted sensor about the size of a hot dog is inserted into a cow’s throat with a metal rod and lodges in the rumen, the first of a cow’s four stomachs. The device—equipped with a battery that lasts four years, about the length of a dairy cow’s productive life—transmits up-to-the-minute data such as the pH of her stomach, her temperature, how much she moves, and the amount of water she’s consumed. A base station in the barn picks up the signals, adds readings on ambient temperature and humidity, and then uploads all the information to the cloud. According to one of the founders, Stefan Rosenkranz, “It’s easier, after all, to look at the situation from inside the cow than in the lab.”

The device is resold by Molecare Veterinary Services in the UK. One of the staff of Molecare is vet nurse Helen Hollingsworth. She said the innovation would “make you go and check earlier than you otherwise would” for serious issues. “If you can detect illness early, you can start antibiotics earlier and ultimately use less.” That being said, it has it’s limitations in that it can not completely diagnose illnesses.

An intersting development is that the device can be used in combination with other tech offerings. Molecare also makes remote tracked animal systems for analysis of other animals and in other locations on farms. Showing data from fields and drinking areas as well as chicken houses can give insight into the growth, health and feeding of animals. This can be sent to producers and consumers an idea of what is going on on the farm. “The idea is to give automated data in real time to everybody in the supply chain,” Keith Evans of Molecare said. He heads the development of new sensors in the company.

SmaXtec is targetting the large dairy market which encompasses over 90m cows around the globe. The setup of the device costs around $600 and each animal tracked costs a couple of hundred dollars in many cases. On top of this there are costs of around ten dollars per month per animal. This revenue model is being used to target large farms in America and Asia in particular. In America average herd sizes are very large.

The benefits are numerous. According to Knowles, he saves a lot of effort by not needing to check cows individually. They also are very precise at forecasting the birth of calves. This has an effect on milk production, since farmers can plan gestation periods better. He said of the device: “The crux of any dairy farm is fertility. We are trying to have a calf per cow every year. Everything we do on the farm comes back to that.”

More information can be found at: Bloomberg.

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