Farm herd sensing

Farm herd sensing

Connecting farmers to their herds through sensors

The project

Silent Herdsman.

Silent Herdsman uses motion sensors in collars to connect cows wirelessly to a farmer’s PC and a central data platform. The collar was developed by scientists at Strathclyde University around 10 years ago, with £5m of government funding from Scottish Enterprise.

A company – Silent Herdsman – was then spun out and supported by Innovate UK with a further £5m of funding, as it developed a marketable product. The company recently received a further £4m from private equity to develop as a commercial enterprise.

This allows famers to monitor when the cows should be inseminated to maximise milk yields, as well as their health to increase farm profitability and improve animal welfare.

Data can be shared with feed suppliers, nutritionists and supermarkets to benefit the whole food supply chain.

The system, which comprises the collars, a base station and an ethernet link to the PC, typically pays for itself in 12 to 15 months.

Prepared in partnership with Machina Research.

  • The system is proven and working on more than 350 farms.
  • Although the collars’ initial use was for detecting the right time to inseminate cows, the analytical capabilities have been extended to understand a cow’s health using its movement patterns. The collars can detect how the cow is walking, when it is eating and when it is ruminating. If the pattern changes significantly the farmer is alerted to ask the vet to check on the cow. The collars detect symptoms before there are any visible signs a herdsman would normally notice.
  • The company is looking at production efficiency in the supply chain. In future by analysing the data from the collars, together with the data from the milking parlour and beef quality, herdsmen can see how feeding patterns and an animal’s health impacts revenues.
  • There are also programmes looking to merge data from the milking parlour with that from the collar to get more specific information on the cows’ state of health. At the moment the system can raise a general health alert and the vet has to determine exactly what the problem is.

Expert view

Silent Herdsman is taking the first step towards realising the potential for connecting livestock to the Internet of Things. The dairy sector in the UK is particularly one under threat, with wholesale milk prices tumbling. Silent Herdsman offers an opportunity to improve yields and therefore support the sector as a whole. As more farmers adopt the technology it will become possible to do much more with the data: improving animal nutrition, tracking incidence of disease and providing consumers with more information about the food they consume.

IoTUK Staff
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