Soon, farmers won’t have to wait to take their cows to the cattle crush to see the vet. A text message will tell them what’s wrong.
An Austrian startup, SmaXtec, is placing connected sensors in cows’ stomachs to transmit health data over wifi. The sensors, each the size of a hot dog, track minute-by-minute data about the temperature of the cow, the pH of her stomach, movement, and activity, and they identify when the animal is in heat. They can predict whether or not a cow is pregnant with 95% accuracy, therefore letting farmers take advantage of increased milk production prior to calving. When changes are monitored, the farm staff receives a text update.
The device, which has roughly four years of battery life, is inserted into the first of four stomachs through a cow’s throat using a metal rod and lodges in the rumen, Bloomberg reported.
It can be hard for humans to tell a cow is ill until there are visible signs of sickness, but the sensors can pick up and report changes even before there are physical symptoms. “It’s easier, after all, to look at the situation from inside the cow than in the lab,” SmaXtec cofounder Stefan Rosenkranz told Bloomberg. The 24/7 monitoring may not be able to pinpoint the exact reason for bodily changes, but it can still help with earlier and more accurate detection of the onset of any illness.
Nearly 350 farms across two dozen countries are reportedly using this technology to monitor livestock. Over the last six years, the devices have been implanted in 15,000 cows in Britain. On its website, SmaXtec notes that covert measurement is safer and reduces the chances of losing a measurement device too. The setup costs—$600 to set up the network and between $75 and $400 per cow—are incurred by the company or distributors, Bloomberg wrote. Farmers incur a monthly charge of $10 per cow for the service.
SmaXtec sees a big opportunity for its sensors because of the “90 million cattle on dairy farms around the world,” but the opportunity may in fact be even bigger. The Economist’s global cattle count places the cattle population at 1.4 billion.