Lee Pitts: Can new farm technologies help farmers and ranchers?
Computers and the Internet have turned many businesses upside down and in many cases, eliminated them entirely. In this technological movement for improvement farmers seem to be ahead of ranchers. Go to any farm show these days and you’d think you were at a big computer convention in Las Vegas.
Farmers use everything from mechanical pickers and thinners to soil probes that tell them where to deliver a few drops of water. Half million dollar combines crawl all over fields that before were only good for skiing on. When I first heard of Autosteer® I thought it was some kind of castrated robot, only later to learn that it was technology that allowed tractors to drive themselves.
Oh sure, ranchers got excited about cattle implants that could be barcoded and read with a scanner until it was discovered that consumers could end up with a cow chip on their plate. Not that kind of chip. I’m talking about a computer chip. Personally, I got real excited about the possibility of using drones to find where cattle were hiding until the FAA got involved and started making all sorts of rules and regulations concerning their use. I’m sure some day you’ll have to have a commercial pilot’s license to operate a $50 drone.
So far the cow/calf business hasn’t exactly been swamped with new products utilizing cutting edge computer technology but that could be about to change. Unfortunately it’s the same old story. I have both good news and bad news for cowboys. First, the good news.
Have you heard about Moocall?
It’s a sensor you attach to a cow’s tail that measures the movement patterns of her tail, gathering 600 pieces of data PER SECOND. When her tail is highly active due to contractions Moocall automatically sends a two-hour heads-up when a cow or heifer is about to calve by automatically sending a text message. And just in case anyone tries to sleep through the birth, it sends another reminder one hour before estimated parturition.
The idea for the product came from an Irishman by the name of Niall Austin who lost a cow and her calf back in 2010 because he wasn’t on hand for the birth. He gathered up a couple partners and since 2015 when Moocall was brought to market, 13,000 Moocall devices have been sold. It is currently being tested at two universities in America.
Guys, just think, you’re worried sick about a set of 700 pound heifers that accidentally got bred to the neighbor’s 2,800 pound bull with shoulders that look like they belong on an NFL linebacker, but instead of being awakened by the ring of an alarm clock every two hours reminding your wife to go check on the heifers, you can sleep tight knowing that Moocall will alert her when a heifer is about to calve. Then, at her leisure she can go to the heifer lot only to see that the heifer in question is merely bothered by a particularly pesky fly. Or she is awakened at four in the morning by a heifer that hates the Moocall device on her tail and keeps trying to knock it off, causing your wife’s phone to ring off the hook.
I think Moocall holds some promise and it’s a step in the right direction but what I think most ranchers would prefer is a device that you attach to a heifer or cow that instead of phoning you in the middle of the night actually goes ahead and delivers the calf so that your wife can get some much needed shuteye so she’s not so cranky the next morning.
That was the good news I promised. Here’s the bad news for cowboys everywhere. This story also comes to us courtesy of not-so-Great Britain. It seems scientists there are worried about a shortage and the high cost of cowboys so they developed the first robot that can actually gather cattle. Now all we need is a squeeze chute that can brand, castrate and vaccinate.
The British cowboy robot has already successfully completed its first trial and can navigate through bodies of water and jump over large logs without bucking anyone off. I don’t know about you but that’s way more than my wonder horse Gentleman would ever do.❖