When it comes to managing livestock and feed, the goal for every farmer is to be as efficient and productive as possible. While today’s farmers have embraced some technology, such as GPS auto-steering tractors, many of their processes are the same as those used in previous generations. There’s a lot of manual work involved including driving out to the pasture several times a day to check on, herd and feed livestock. During calving season, many farmers rarely leave the farm. Ranches with livestock, particularly large-scale agricultural operations, provide one of the best use cases to leverage new technology that uses the Internet of Things (IoT). Because IoT enables farmers to monitor remote locations from one centralized location, they can more efficiently monitor a larger number of livestock and get more detail on each individual animal using the data collected.
While IoT can provide both big picture and day-to-day insights to improve operational efficiencies, the wealth of data that results from connecting a farm to the internet can be overwhelming. Farmers can choose to monitor everything from each animal’s health, location, eating habits and reproductive cycle to the herd’s grazing and movement patterns in a pasture. So, how does a farmer decide which aspects are most useful?
Farmers in the U.S. lose nearly $2.4 billion per year from animal illnesses that lead to death, according to the USDA. IoT solutions let farmers closely monitor the health of their livestock, which can be an effective way to prevent losses. Solutions generally employ livestock wearables connecting to a gateway using a low-cost, low-bandwidth technology to stream data to the cloud. Connected sensors in the wearable can monitor blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, digestion, temperature and other vitals that allow a farmer to be alerted at the first sign of illness. Without IoT monitoring, problems like a feed issue or illness in a herd may go undetected until one or more animals require veterinary care. With sensors continuously measuring each individual animal’s condition and behavior, farmers can avoid those costs by taking corrective action sooner. For example, a cow’s temperature could rise enough to trigger an alert well before the farmer notices a change in behavior.
Monitoring Reproductive Cycles and Calving
IoT can also be useful during a cow’s reproductive cycle to monitor when a cow goes into heat and when they are ready to birth. Because cows can be in heat for as little as eight hours, IoT devices can notify the farmer as soon as this happens, which increases productivity, efficiency and potential revenue. If the cows are in from the field, a more advanced system with IoT-controlled fencing can automate the process of corralling the cow in heat away from the rest of the herd and into a chute for artificial insemination. When the cow goes into labor, an IoT sensor can send an alert to the farmer, making the calving process safer while eliminating the need for the farmer to continually check on the cow to see if she has started calving.
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IoT sensors in a wearable device can also track an animal’s location, which comes in handy when a farmer’s animals are spread out over multiple acres. Location monitoring can be extremely useful to farmers raising free range or pastured livestock as it allows them to better account for the livestock. Tracking location allows a farmer to immediately locate a sick animal or an animal who has gone into heat and separate it from the herd to provide treatment. Monitoring an animal’s location also allows a farmer to recognize movement patterns for each animal and can alert the farmer when an animal’s behavior appears to be different than normal, which can be a sign of illness. Additionally, movement tracking can help maximize a farmer’s pastureland. With the data provided from tracking each animal’s movement as well as the herd’s migration, farmers can establish and optimize grazing patterns. Location tracking is often a feature included in health or reproductive tracking devices.
IoT devices are also useful to dairy farmers who have cows that need to be milked several times a day. Robots can increase a dairy operation’s milk production by allowing cows to choose when they would like to be milked, which can result in increased milking sessions. Sensors around a cow’s neck alerts the robot to the identity of the cow about to be milked, individualizing the session for her. It can also track each animal’s milking speed, the amount and quality of milk produced, how much the cow has eaten and the number of steps each cow has taken per day. From that data, the farmer can determine which cows are able to produce more milk and improve their diets to increase lactation.
Farmers can also use movement tracking to monitor specific behaviors in their herds to determine how frequently they feed. They can correlate cows’ movements with specific behaviors such as grazing, socializing or lying down chewing the cud. Knowing how often each of these behaviors occurs can allow farmers to finetune their herd’s feed requirements so they aren’t wasting food or overfeeding their livestock. Farmers can also use IoT devices to monitor feed levels so they know when a trough needs to be refilled or when they need to purchase more feed. These steps can even be automated.
While IoT devices can send real-time alerts to help increase a farm’s efficiency, the data provided over time is perhaps the most powerful result. Taking all the data together can allow a farmer to make decisions based on a full understanding of all aspects of the farm. Herd patterns may lead to an insight into birthing rates or the cause of a disease popping up. Once the data becomes available, it will even be possible to apply machine learning to pull out additional insights that may not be easily identified. At infiswift, we provide an agriculture-specific platform to vendors and farmers to build out these connected IoT applications that can change the way livestock are managed.
Ultimately, farmers will be the ones to care for their livestock, but IoT can optimize and simplify many of the steps involved. Because implementing IoT technology can monitor each animal’s health, fertility, movement, location and more, farms will undergo a change to utilize that data to increase their efficiency, productivity and revenue. This shift is already underway and will continue to pick up steam as livestock management evolves.