Imagine the following scenario: a farmer asks her daughter to check on the cows. But instead of putting on a jacket and walking out to the fields, she merely turns to a computer monitor or swipes her thumb across the touch screen of a mobile device. There, on the screen, she can see exactly where all their cows are. She can check heart beats, body temperatures and anything else she needs to know about their livestock. To many of us, this sounds like the makings of a Ray Bradbury story. It evokes fantastical ideas of a future we once only dreamed about. Yet what was once science fiction is now reality, thanks to cutting edge, remote sensing technologies. Wearable – and digestible – devices are changing the agriculture industry in ways we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago.
It’s all part of a growing trend known as the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the phenomenon of interconnected devices that can be controlled or monitored from computers and personal devices like smart phones.
The livestock wearables market is already estimated to be worth $1 billion, and it’s expected to grow to at least $2.5 billion by the year 2025. Products range from leg bands and collars to e-tags and even smart pills. Advanced remote sensors in these devices relay vital data to solar-powered receivers, where they are passed on to central servers. From there, the data is processed by analytic software and is accessible from computer portals or mobile devices.
Game changing devices
E-tags are the most basic of the products now available. Typically clipped onto an animal’s ear, they enable GPS tracking and monitor body temperature. Body temperature is the most telling sign of illness. When a farmer discovers an animal is running a fever, he or she can quickly isolate it, thereby preventing the potential spread of infection. Early detection also means a better chance at successful treatment.
Leg bands communicate with barn and farmyard sensors, providing detailed information about herd location. They can even interact with barn doors and gates, allowing animals access to appropriate areas like robotic milking pens. Smart collars provide a sophisticated way of tracking vital health data. They monitor body temperature and heart rate. Top-of-the-line products include microphones so that cud-chewing (yet another way of measuring animal health) can be analyzed. Some can even detect estrus in cows. This is incredibly useful because it enables farmers to maximize breeding potential, especially where artificial insemination is concerned. E-collars can even help where productivity is concerned, by tracking milking statistics.
E-pills are yet another tool at the disposal of today’s farmers. These clever devices are swallowed and stored in the rumen (one of the cow’s stomachs). They remain there for the lifetime of the animal, transmitting typical metrics such as body temperature, heart and respiration rates, but with the added benefit of monitoring pH levels. Even cow bells are evolving. The old, metallic clang has been replaced by GPS tracking systems which help prevent animals from getting lost or killed by predators. Some products even emit warning lights and alarms when predators are detected.
The future of agriculture
Other high tech tools, like smart tractors and robotic milking machines, are also now available to farmers. In the future these are only going to get more sophisticated, and entirely new products will make their appearance on the market. In conjunction with wearable devices, these breakthroughs are changing the landscape of agriculture in remarkable ways. In 2016, what once seemed like science fiction is now reality.
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