Winter Cattle Journal 2019: Smart tags keep a pulse on cowherds | TSLN.com

Winter Cattle Journal 2019: Smart tags keep a pulse on cowherds

Deanna Nelson-Licking, Freelance Writer

Smart tags can provide an opportunity for producers to better track animal and heat cycles.

The implementation of technology in the beef cattle industry might be a little slower than other sectors, but a number of companies are developing products to bring producers into the 21st century. There are a number of companies developing smart tags, smart collars and implants, which are gaining popularity worldwide, especially in the dairy industry. While the technology is relatively new, there are a few US-based companies working to fill the need in the beef industry. 

HerdDogg, "The Internet of Herds," an award-winning company based in Ashland, Oregon and founded in 2015 has been developing an ear tag system for ranchers. "Our goal is to improve the things producers do regularly. Innovation that excites people, everyone wants to know enhanced access methods and we provide deeper insights into the animals they love," said Melissa Brandao, CEO and founder of HerdDogg. "I developed it by studying the challenges of gathering data from RFID tags in the pasture and came up with a system that is hands-off, using Bluetooth technology." 

HerdDogg was first designed to support grass-fed beef cattle out in the pasture, day and night. It gives the user access to the animal's welfare at all times. This is especially helpful for ranchers who work off the place, enabling remote monitoring of herd health to boost livestock profitability and sustainability. 

The DoggTag, a Bluetooth ear tag, is placed in each cow's ear and a moveable base with cellular connection, called the DoggBone is placed at a central gathering point in the pasture or barn, i.e. water tank, back rub, lick tub or salt lick. The DoggBone operates using Bluetooth and records each tag that comes within about 30 feet of it and sends the data to the cloud. The producer is able to access it via a smartphone app that provides anytime/anywhere access and alerts for each animal's health record without touching the animal. Truly a no-stress gathering of data. And if looking for a specific animal, the user is able via Bluetooth to turn on a light on the tag, making it easy to identify the animal. The system can also be used to count the herd and identify missing individuals by enabling the DoggBone to record all visitors that came by and reporting to the app. 

The HerdDogg system provides three main tools: health, heat and tracking. The tag measures biometrics, ear temperature and activity. Producers are able to know which animal is sick before seeing them and do field health checks without disturbing the herd. It also helps with AI, taking the guesswork out of heat detecting, by monitoring estrus and giving early warning for breeding. The LED light aids in locating the animal, especially at night. And it is the only one of its kind that will improve the conception rate by measuring the change in biometrics and outer ear temperature for early pregnancy detection.  

"I feel that the time is coming when producers will need a system to monitor livestock from birth on, to ensure the highest quality of life and health, monitoring genetics and well-being," Brandao said.  

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The DoggBone is movable and the tags are reusable, with a battery life of two years, which is the average tag life. A new tag can be linked to the individual, resulting in uninterrupted data collection. But even after the tag is gone, the heath record is preserved in the cloud. The data collected is a permanent, unalterable record of each animal's health. The producers own the raw data and they buy access to the HerdDogg service to access the information on their phones. 

The entire system is engineered and made in the United States.  

For the feedlot sector, Quantified Ag has created a tag to improve efficiency. "These tags are a way to augment pen riders, so they can do a better job and focus their efforts," said Vishal Singh, CEO and founder. "With our system all the data belongs to the customer. The customer decides who has access to it." 

Singh worked for the Institute of Ag at the University of Nebraska Lincoln for a number of years. Through his work in agriculture projects and the beef industry he experimented with drones for the detection of sick animals, but there were a number of drawbacks to their use. So he changed his focus to attaching a sensor to the animal. He started his company in 2014. They are a small team but everything is still produced in Lincoln, Nebraska. Since all feeder cattle have an ear tag already and the application is familiar, creating a smart ear tag made sense. The tags have gone through trials and research for retention and collection of data. The small tag is activated and attached to the ear and sends system reports to the cloud every hour, providing easy to understand, live data straight to the Precision Livestock Dashboard located at the feedyard office. The raw data is interpreted by the dashboard, exposing the weak areas of any cattle operation. Their Precision Livestock management system allows feedlot managers to monitor the cattle from anywhere. 

The tag and data system that has been developed and is being used by numerous feedyards in the Midwest includes a tag positioned to look down the ear canal that monitors body temperature and behavior. An antenna is installed, preferably on the feed mill, and one unit can cover over 50,000 head of cattle, in a 1-2 mile radius. The data is sent to the cloud and back to the Dashboard at the office. Every day a list of sick animals is sent and the tag of each one lights up to make identification easier. So instead of pen riders methodically riding and looking at each individual, they have a daily pull list, making them more efficient and reducing stress by identifying troubled animals earlier. "Cattle are creatures of prey so they are really good at hiding their symptoms. Our tags objectively monitor herd health all the time," said Alex Heine, director of customer experience at Quantified Ag. 

Quantified Ag personnel work with customers in the installation process, ensuring its quality and quick completion. The system is scalable to cover the exact needs of large or small operations. It requires an initial financial investment but by improving the efficiency and herd health it can increase profits. Early detection allows for faster treatment of sick cattle, this lowers morbidity and mortality rates, not only saving time but also money in drug costs. The system works all the time, in all weather and never has a sick day or fails to show up. 

Quantified Ag's goal is to simplify animal health management. According to their website, "Our vision is to give the livestock industry a more integrated animal health platform that provides actionable information for improved outlier detection and treatment decisions. With a reliable, innovative, and clear focus we aim to transform the livestock industry with cutting edge technology on a global scale."