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Sonar cows, Big Data and Food Production


Vital Herd, a Texas-based start-up, has developed a device that can be swallowed by cows. The sensor, or e-Pill, sits in the cow's rumen and uses sonar technology - originally developed for military purposes - to collect information about the animal, including heart rate, temperature, rumination time, rumen acidity and oestrogen levels. It will be available commercially later this year.

The information stored on each e-Pill will be transmitted wirelessly to receivers as cows pass by, and then through the internet to Vital Herd's cloud-based herd management software. This will collate and interpret the data about each animal so it can be viewed by farm managers. The software will send out alerts by text message or email if it appears that individual animals have anything seriously wrong with them.

"Forty per cent of dairy cows get ill each year," explains Brian Walsh, Vital Herd's chief executive. "The cause can be early lactation, the type of feed they are receiving or one of a very large spectrum of health complications. Early warning or auto-detection can help minimise complications or avoid them altogether."

The US Department of Agriculture says total economic loss from animal sickness and death is more than $5bn (£3bn) a year, with global losses amounting to 12 times this.

Mr Walsh believes that more productivity benefits will be realised by analysing historical data from a wide range of cattle. "If we can aggregate data from customers in different regions we could do industry benchmarking and studies to link productivity to vital sign data and genetics," he says.

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Cloud based cow herd management is a brilliant phrase.

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