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Connected Cows are bringing big data to farming

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Cattle and dairy farms can manage anywhere from 10 to tens of thousands of livestock. Looking after a small number of cows is a time-consuming and labour-intensive job, so you can imagine how that scales when the numbers increase.

This is where modern technology and big data have combined to take the strain away from the farmer.

A new breed of digital farmers are turning cows into data sets that can be utilised to yield higher profits.

The connected cow

Wearables are hot right now. Whether it’s FitBit, the Apple Watch or any of the hundreds of other devices out there, monitoring our health has never been so popular. How many steps have you taken today? It’s no wonder cows want in on the action.

The Connected Cow from Fujitsu is one of many such technology-backed projects which aims to make cattle and dairy farming more efficient and profitable.

To transform a regular cow into a 21st century connected cow, the farmer simply fits a wireless tracker to the cow’s leg. The tracker sends data to an app and onto the cloud for processing.

The app will inform the farmer when the cow is ready to breed, knowledge which will help increase pregnancy rates.

This information is so vital to farmers because a cow’s optimal period for insemination lasts only 12-18 hours every 21 days. Miss the window and the farmer must wait for the next cycle before trying again.

Karl Verhulst, head of internet-of-things solutions in Fujitsu’s digital technology services business told Business Day “This is quite ground-breaking because our algorithms are quite precise. It’s accurate and we are also able to influence the gender of the calf.”

Five thousand cows across farms in Japan, Turkey and Poland are already part of Fujitsu’s Connected Cow project. The firm has also partnered with the University of Reading in an effort to provide proof of concept to UK farmers.

The Internet of Cows

Fujitsu’s Connected Cow project is focused on improving pregnancy rates, but cows have much more data to share. BovControl – otherwise known as the internet of cows – tracks all kinds of cow data to build up a much bigger picture.

BovControl’s founder, Danilo Leao, began looking after his family’s farm when he was just 15. Leao would track animals using a spreadsheet and ear tags. He created BovControl to improve performance of meat and dairy production, in turn helping tackle hunger around the world.

The app is able to automatically collect livestock data through a range of devices, such as ear rings, chips, smart scales and more.

When it’s fed data such as the cow’s weight, temperature and milk production, the app is able to use cloud processing to pump out all kinds of helpful information to the farmer.

Output data can include:

  • The right time to slaughter a cow for consumption
  • If a dairy cow should be removed from milking
  • When a vaccination needs to be given
  • Estimates on due dates for calves

Bruno, a farmer on an 830-cow farm in the south of Brazil, told Business Insider UK: "I used pen and paper before. I do a lot of vaccinations, and the app gives me tools to collect that data and keep track of expiration dates.”

He added: “When a cow gives birth, I can capture the animal's growth and figure out when I should sell it."

Moo-ve over cows, tractors are pretty connected too

And it’s not just cows which are being turned into data collectors. The tractors farmers use are becoming more intelligent with every passing year.

The world’s leading tractor-maker John Deere has been placing sensors into its tractors for years. These sensors gather data as the machines move through fields doing tractor stuff.

Every activity of the tractor has become an exercise in data collection – the internet of tractors if you will. Information on yield, weather and soil conditions is processed to create computer models guiding farmers on how to plant their fields.

John Deere users even have access to an “Operations Center”. The tool promises to make a farmer’s work in the field much more productive, helping to get the maximum yield from the soil.

What about the connected human?

The connected cow is a great example of using big data to get great results. Furthermore, you’d never typically associate cows and farming as being digital leaders, yet here they are.

I’ve already talked about the ways in which our pet care is improving thanks to connected devices. And there’s no doubt we’ll also see similar benefits to our health thanks to the data which can be collected by wearables.

The thing most likely to hold back progress for humans is our scepticism about how this personal data is being used, in turn making us unwilling to share at all. Unlike cows, we want a say in how our data is tracked and utilised, but this could be a price worth paying for a longer, healthier life.

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