10 Herd Management Solutions for Livestock
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After publishing our recent article on 9 New Technologies for Dairy Farming and Dairy Cows, the CEO of a publicly-traded farming automation firm in New Zealand emailed us to say that many of the technologies we wrote about existed already and were being sold commercially. He couldn’t say why venture capitalists would be investing in businesses that were trying to offer something that’s already available. Given that he operates in a country that sells more dairy products to the U.S. than any other, he ought to know.
Farming is a tough business, and you can be sure that these dairy farmers are pragmatic “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” types. Take for example a company called DairyLive that sells Windows-based herd management software for farmers.
Looks like a basic Visual Basic application that hasn’t changed much since it was made. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Herd Management Udderly Matters
Still, there are problems to solve in the dairy industry and general livestock industry as a whole. In an ideal scenario, cows, sheep, and goats would happily graze grass or chew on dried forage, and we would consume milk and meat products from those blissfully happy pasture-raised herds. But should all livestock roam freely? For the 1,800 cows in Washington state, the open lots turned deadly. An unexpected blizzard killed them while they were trying to warm up, crushing each other in tight clusters. One must wonder whether the aftermath for the Washington dairy farmers would have been less dire if more technology was used. Most people probably don’t know that 41% of the contiguous U.S. is used for feeding livestock.
That number includes the land which we grow crops to feed livestock, and the range that livestock grazes upon. The vast majority of animals we’re talking about here are cows, so let’s take a look at some more companies that are helping manage herds of livestock.
Nedap Livestock Management is a subsidiary of Nedap (NEDAP:NA), a Dutch multinational firm whose livestock subsidiary specializes in sustainable smart technologies, including agtech solutions for herd management. They claim that their Nedap Livestock Management platform is the global leader in farming automation using individual animal identification via RFID.
The chips are used to measure things like heat detection, where to concentrate feeding, farm employee efficiency, cow health, milk yield at the cow level, sorting and routing, and any cow’s location. The company also offers a management system for pigs, which can measure feed intake and a scale that can be adjusted to pig sizes, feeding up to 15 porkers at one time. The company helps farmers manage millions of cows and pigs in more than 100 countries, 24 hours a day
Smart Milk Meters
Founded way back in 1977 and operating in more than 50 countries, Israeli startup Afimilk is a kibbutz that has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to provide a herd management platform called AfiShepherd. The platform collects data from milk meters, behavioral sensors, and automatically identifies the animals based on ISO-certified tags. Having invented the first electronic milk meter ever, the more advanced version called AfiFree also supports sheep and goats. Information is fed to the platform concerning milk yield, milk conductivity, udder disease, and low-milk flow. Alerts will indicate when farmers should stop milking because the animal has reached its optimal output. The third component, AfiPass, uses a transponder attached to the animal to automatically identify each cow.
AfiMilk recently acquired Silent Herdsman, a UK VC-backed startup that develops neck-collared detectors for sexual receptivity cycles and cow health issues.
Multi-Site Herd Management
Wisconsin-based BoviSync is a private company that provides a cloud-based data management platform that helps farm owners of multi-site herds reduce staff labor and improve herd protocols. Additionally, it facilitates in-pen training and transition. BoviSync has a mobile app that can be used to manually record breeding and vaccination records.
Farmers use EID scanners and tags to locate individual cows and feed precise data into the herd management system. The information can later be supplemented with external data imports to create reports about sire selection, heat, movement, weight, and even genomics.
DairyQuest is a product of ProfitSource, a private Wisconsin software company that’s developed a tool for herd management. Akin to DairyLive, DairyQuest allows dairy farmers to use Windows for its herd management system to create, customize, and analyze reports about active and removed animals, schedule vet checks, view milk parlor data, run inventories, and automatically retrieve data.
To complement the network version with a tablet PC that can be used for direct data entry at herd locations, ProfitSource has partnered with another Midwest startup called Mobile Direct that makes rugged tablets for rugged conditions. Any place filled with cow patties qualifies in our book. The company has software packages for other livestock, including one called GoatPRO.
Large Herd Management
Dairy Records Management System (DRMS) out of Raleigh, North Carolina offers a herd management product called Herd Detective. The software helps keep track of animal health during the reproduction and lactation cycles which helps farmers maximize profits by choosing the most effective breeding strategy. The tool works for herds with 50 to 14,000 cows and DRMS provides records for almost 11,000 producers across the country tracking over two million cows. They’ve been at it since 1957, and that’s about when they last refreshed their website. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. DRMS includes two RFID-compatible mobile solutions: PocketDairy and Vet Check Maxxre.
Cow Facial Recognition
When it comes to completely new uses of technology for cow management, look no further than enabling your farm with some facial recognition capabilities. We first came across this next startup in our article titled “Watch for These 8 AI Startups Doing Computer Vision.” Founded in 2015, Dublin startup Cainthus has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to develop their smart camera system which collects video data on site. Rather than using RFID, it uses machine learning to teach itself the unique I.D. of all cows in a pen by using their pelt pattern and facial features. The system can monitor things like the time cows spend eating, drinking, or making rude gestures at one another.
It’s already being run by early adopters on farms in Northern Ireland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and ‘Murica.
IoT for Livestock
It’s not just specialty companies focusing on herd management but also larger Internet of Things (IoT) companies that want to add livestock management to their offering. One of these is Sigfox, a startup we first covered in our article on 11 Smart City Solutions Creating Smarter Cities. Sigfox provides a cellular network that is dedicated to low-throughput communication between internet-connected objects, and now they’re moving outside the city to track livestock. This innovative IoT technology essentially fences pastures and ranges with the push of a button. When an animal strays outside the boundary, GPS is activated. Other benefits include:
This French company has now raised more than $300 million, so they should have plenty of money to expand into all kinds of business verticals like global herd management (they’re currently operating in more than 60 countries).
EdTech for Herd Management
Milc Group is a team of dairy experts with experiences ranging from dairy management to technology development as well as animal nutrition and healthcare. They’ve developed a holistic herd management tool that focuses on technology and education. It helps farm owners with facility management and food rationing by delivering selected notifications through its cloud-based application, “one.” That would, apparently, stop annoying farmers with needless alerts, leaving them to focus on actionable information. Here is one of their proactive sensors called Milc Pulse:
In addition, it provides another application called “train trac” that facilitates the onboarding and training process for new farm employees with interactive learning modules.
No App Herd Management
My Dairy Dashboard, a joint venture between Virtus Nutrition and Dairy.com, offers what it calls “an action-based” cloud system for herd management. Farmers can access the herd management platform via a web browser from any mobile device (no app required). It collects livestock, feed, milk production, climate, and weather data to assist everyone in the dairy industry make better-informed, faster decisions, and act upon them as soon as an issue arises.
Everyone includes consultants, too. We assume this will help them locate real issues faster and charge less for expensive consultancy services – when dairy cows fly, no doubt.
Managing Grazing Livestock
Founded in 2014, Silicon Valley PastureMap has taken in $3.1 million in funding from a whole slew of investors to develop a tool that helps manage cattle on grazelands. In one example they gave, a farmer was able to run their 5,000 head of cattle as a single herd making four to six moves per day with help from only a few employees. That’s a stocking rate nearly twice the average for their area. In other words, we can use technology to reduce the land footprint needed for grazing cattle.
The tool lets you store pasture maps, grazing records, and cattle moves in one place where they can then be shared with hired staff, management, and landowners. For new ranch hands, the tool can help you locate paddock names, gates, and water out in the field.
While this is hardly an exhaustive list of technology for herd management, we see a lot of the solutions are being provided by established private companies that don’t necessarily fit the profile of your traditional startup. Someone’s even developed a mating app called Tudder (known as Tinder for cows), which helps bovines score more booty than humans. Raising livestock is an industry that continues to fight for profits, something that’s been sorely lacking in recent years as the industry battles the rise of plant-based milks and climate change concerns which all impact the demand for dairy products and hamburger. There’s always plenty of room to innovate, and this industry has proved more than capable of using technology to generate long term benefits.