Smart Tags for smart cows on the fast track
April 11, 2017
Cutting edge technology in the agriculture industry is out of the board room, and in the pasture. In today's tech-savvy world, Bluetooth technologies now allow data to be gathered and stored, with the touch of the phone, because … there's an app for that. An up and coming agricultural technology company has created a two-part ear-tag system that collects animal data at a watering hole, and producers collect the data via their cellphone.
Dairy Farmers of America and Sprint recently announced that this company, HerdDogg, would be participating in the 2017 Accelerator program, that helps accelerate and grow startup businesses. The company, which moved to Longmont, Colo., in September, began developing agriculture technologies in 2013. "We've developed 'smart tags for smart cows,'" according to its founder and CEO, Melissa Brandao.
"Our goal is to create a technology that is rancher friendly," Brandao said.
The tags monitor each cow, recording body temperature, environmental data, location and ambient temperature, without ever running them through a chute, helping with herd management and offering precision livestock, similar to precision crop management. "For that reason, we are ranked No. 1 with the animals," Brandao joked.
“There is tremendous innovation happening in the agriculture space, and we’re looking forward to collaborating with and helping mentor these startup companies.”
The data collected allows producers and other users to make rapid data-driven decisions on their animals' health, and have the predictive information to maintain a healthy herd. Field tested by cows, the company's namesake product, HerdDogg, was first tested in eastern Oregon. A rancher, frustrated with the status quo RFID system jump-started the project, Brandao said.
"Within weeks of developing our first HerdDogg tags, we had installed them on cattle. Prototypes can be difficult to make and are prone to breaking but cows don't care. Our tags have undergone the worst kind of treatment from the sweetest looking animals. We had some successes and a lot of failures — broken, bitten, stepped on, pooped on and just plain lost. We fixed them, tested and re-tested and the result is the product we have today. They say hardware is hard — our hardware has been hardened by happy cows," the company shares on its website.
"The next challenge," Brandao said, "was building a system that both generated and gathered data."
SIMILAR TO A FITBIT
HerdDogg does both, and is a low-cost, easy-to-use solution for both small and large producers. Similar to a Fitbit, HerdDogg has opened a new chapter for the more than 2 billion animals in the food supply chain. Once data is flowing from within the herds, the company believes it will be positioned to improve the efficiency of the entire animal food chain. The smart tags and readers will generate ID and biometrics from herd animals, without the limitations of current RFID technology.
HerdDogg's two-part system includes, the DoggTag, an ear tag attached to an animal, similar to traditional tags to monitor and collect the biometrics, and the DoggBone, a device that collects the data from multiple DoggTags at any time. The DoggBone can be stored at a water trough, carried in a pocket or even worn by a dog, and reads data within a 30-to-40-feet radius. Then the DoggBone data gets sent directly to the rancher via a mobile app and to the cloud at HerdDogg.io.
Cost efficiency is also a goal of the company.
"We have a self-starter kit, that is being used in both beef and dairy," Brandao said. "It is low cost, great for the smaller producers, because the system is cost effective, and it is more flexible."
HerdDogg Starter kits are available for $500, which include 25 DoggTags, 1 Doggbone, and 12 months of web access.
In February of this year, the company teamed up with All Drone Solutions to test HerdDogg's cattle monitoring technology to gather data via a drone for "free-range" cattle in the San Joaquin Valley. HerdDogg's DoggBone reader, attached to the drone, gathers data from a distance of approximately 30 feet, and allows for added mobility.
TEAMING WITH DRONES
Bruce Negri, a rancher in Clovis, Calif., tested HerdDogg' smart tags, but posed a new challenge for the technology. Negri's cattle graze on a large pasture with no specific sites where the cattle congregate. Long-range cattle grazing has always been a challenge for precision livestock, requiring radio towers and expensive equipment to read at long distances. "By installing our DoggBone on the drone, we deploy the drone to the area where the cattle are, then hover and gather data and fly back to the ranch with minimal effort and maximum reward," says David Proctor, HerdDogg's chief technology officer.
Based out of Exeter, Calif., All Drones Solutions specializes in using drones for precision agriculture by providing same day vigor maps with algorithms designed specifically for California crops. "This is something new for us," said Mark Hull, CEO and founder of All Drone Solutions. "When HerdDogg called me to see if I would be willing to run the drones for cattle monitoring, I was intrigued. This could be a whole new market for drone use."
HerdDogg was publicly introduced in November, 2015, when the team was selected to be on Intel's new reality TV show, America's Greatest Makers, but officially launched its product in January, 2017.
The company has lofty goals, but is off to a great start. "Our ambition is to replace RFID," Brandao said.
To date, along with reality television, they have worked with some of the most well-respected ranches and dairies, joined the TechStars Land 'O Lakes accelerator program in the summer 2016, won best of show and editor choice, Maker Faire in 2016, and became a research funds recipient at Oregon BEST in 2016.
The Accelerator program is a 90-day, immersive program focusing on startups in two verticals — digital and ag tech. Each company will work directly with leaders from Sprint, DFA, Pinsight Media+, Virgin Mobile USA and Dairy One. This year's four participants come from cities around the U.S. and are working to develop both hardware- and software-based solutions.
"There is tremendous innovation happening in the agriculture space, and we're looking forward to collaborating with and helping mentor these startup companies," said Kevin Strathman, senior vice president of finance at DFA
The other 2017 ag tech companies selected in the Corporate Accelerator are:
• AgVoice from Atlanta, Ga. — AgVoice is a mobile, voice-interaction service designed for food and agriculture professionals to capture insights on the go.
• My Dairy Dashboard from Frisco, Texas — My Dairy Dashboard helps producers gather insights and simplify their dairy decisions through a visual dashboard of aggregated herd, feed, milk and weather data.
• TradeLanes from Miami, Fla. — TradeLanes digitizes and automates the supply chain for shippers, merchants and traders.
As a sponsoring company for the Accelerator, DFA will provide mentorship, connections and resources to help accelerate the growth of the ag tech startups selected. Highlights of the 90-day program include:
• Targeted, strategic meetings with senior DFA team members to discuss business development, pilots and potential sponsorships;
• Mentoring from DFA senior team members and their networks, as well as from the investor, business development and entrepreneurial communities; and
• Business building sessions around product, brand and marketing. ❖
— Eatherton is a freelance writer from Beaulah, Wyo. When she's not writing, she's riding her horse or playing with her grandson. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org