Beef and dairy farmers will soon be able to weigh their youngstock and take their temperature several times a day, without having to lift a finger.
A new project, which should be available on farms within the next three years, brings together the latest technology to remotely weigh and record data on calves and youngstock through to mature cattle. “Not only will this help farmers to fine-tune their management to maximise performance, it will also enable them to identify sick animals at a very early stage, improving recovery speeds and reducing the use of antibiotics,” explains Alan Beynon, director of PrognostiX, which is developing the technology.
Working with the Nottingham University and British Telecom, the PrognostiX team expects the smart solution, named Y-Ware, to have far-reaching benefits for the industry – from practical farm improvements to retailer traceability. “By inserting a small bolus into the calf’s rumen, and combining it with long-distance LoRa wireless technology, we can pull together all the data in one place,” explains Mr Beynon. “With identification capability it offers similar benefits to electronic ear tags but with far more data recording and the bonus of being completely tamper-proof.”
The project secured funding through Innovate UK – and at £1.13m over three years is one of the biggest grants awarded through the scheme. It is also a true application of Internet of Things (IoT) technology within livestock farming. “It’s very exciting – we’re taking technology developed for other industries and developing it specifically for agriculture to deliver real benefits at significantly lower cost – so it will be accessible to all,” says Mr Beynon.
PrognostiX is developing the bolus and wireless weighing platform, with BT working on the software and Nottingham University the algorithms to turn statistics into meaningful alerts to farmers. “The idea is to locate the weighing platform by a water trough – whether inside or outside, it doesn’t matter,” explains Mr Beynon. “Each animal will then be weighed every time it drinks, and the information – along with its temperature – will be processed by the Edge hub before it is sent wirelessly to the farmer’s computer or mobile device.”
By developing unique Edge technology to process data at the point of collection, the system only sends alerts when needed – for example when an animal has a temperature or isn’t gaining weight, which saves on battery usage and minimises the data package required. It’s also possible to keep other farm records, such as medicine usage, on the bolus, keeping everything in one place.
Unlike other boluses, which are designed for adult cattle, the Y-Ware bolus can be used in calves from 14 weeks of age. With incredibly accurate growth and performance data, farmers will be able to alter farm management to maximise efficiencies, says Mr Beynon. “In due course we will be able to gather data from other sensors – such as housing temperatures and humidity – and use that to create the optimum farm environment for animal health and welfare.”
Pneumonia and scours are the most common health problems in calves – typically costing £82 and £57 per affected calf, respectively. “Using this new technology to reduce the incidence of disease will yield considerable savings in medicine use alone,” he adds. “When you consider the amount of time farmers spend rounding up animals to weigh them or treat them for disease, the labour saving will also be considerable, with less stress and improved health and safety for all involved. This really is game changing technology.”