Fitbit for cattle: Tracking cattle health with technology
May 11, 2016
For the health conscious, wearable technology such as the Fitbit tracker is increasingly popular for counting steps or calories, monitoring heart rate or tracking mileage on your bike.
The health technology is also being used by some animals.
Quantified Ag, a start-up based in Lincoln, Neb. is developing a Fitbit for cattle designed to help feedlots take the guesswork out of tracking animal health.
"Cattle producers have been detecting illness the same way for hundreds of years," said Quantified Ag founder and CEO Vishal Singh. "We're building a software and sensor platform for feedlot cattle that provides data and actionable insights from the data."
It's estimated that 22.5 million cattle are on feedlots in the United States, being cared for and fed until they reach market weight and can be sold.
Death loss, morbidity and infection rates are issues the industry faces every day, said Andrew Uden, Quantified Ag's chief operating officer. Uden grew up working on a cattle feeding, cow and calf operation started by his father in central Nebraska. He said death loss can range from two to four percent and disease affects anywhere from two to 20 percent for some cattle.
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"I grew up in the cattle industry," Uden said. "I've pulled sick animals and I understand the inner workings of the industry. Getting out early and detecting disease is a priority for these feed yards."
Currently, feedlot employees check the herd on foot or on horseback. It can be difficult to identify sick animals, Uden said, because a cow that is ailing will try to hide its symptoms to keep from being removed from the herd. Quantified Ag will try to remove the human element from the equation.
Cattle are given an ear tag when they come to a feedlot. Quantified Ag combined its technology with the ear tag, providing custom tags that are used to gather biometric and behavioral readings from the animal. The information is then relayed to a receiver.
"The receiver sends it to our file servers," said Chief Technology Officer Brian Shupbach. "We do a lot of number crunching and then we send out health alerts. "It's a great tool for tracking the overall health of the herd."
An LED light on the sensor makes it easy to pick out sick cattle. The ear tags also provide radio-frequency identification — the same technology that allows a grocery store to scan bar codes. The software provides reports on any mobile device, tablet or desktop computer.
By detecting disease earlier, feedlots can get ahead of the problem, use antibiotics that are less potent and cheaper and also avoid re-treatment of a stubborn illness that could give rise to drug-resistant infection. The ear tag technology also establishes what Uden calls a "chain of traceability."
"It provides a verified process from the minute the tag goes on the ear until the animal reaches the packing house floor," Uden said. "That should enhance our trade markets develops a system of trust between the consumer and the producer."
In addition to growing up in the cattle industry, Uden earned a degree in animal science and a Master's of Applied Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His experience includes an internship with an Australian agriculture company and a job summer job with Russian Angus Genetics. Uden lives in Lexington, Neb. where he continues to run his family's cow/calf operation and manages the data and technology services of a feedlot company.
Shupbach earned a degree in management information systems from DePaul University in Chicago. He spent 15 years in the software industry as an engineer, senior technology leader, project/team manager and enterprise architect.
Singh was born in New Delhi, India and moved with his family to a small farming community in Nebraska in the mid 1980s. His experience in the agriculture technology industry includes creating 3D visualizations of animal anatomy, mobile apps and website development and building custom drones for crop imaging. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Quantified Ag is headquartered at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln, a research campus developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Singh said it's the ideal location for an agriculture technology startup. NIC is home to UNL's Food Processing Center and Department of Food Science and Technology, a large cutting edge greenhouse and a handful of food and technology companies.
Singh said it's energizing to be in an environment with others involved in entrepreneurial and innovative projects.❖