Cows now easier to track with wearable tech collars

A bell-shaped GPS collar is helping dairy farmers to locate exactly where their cattle are, track their movements and produce more milk.

The sturdy wearable tracking collar, which is already being trialled in Ireland, was designed in an attempt to bring technology to livestock and help farmers manage grazing patterns and milk yields. It comes equipped with several sensors that tracks the cow’s movements and is able to tell if the cow is grazing, socialising or simply lying down, chewing the cud.

The data is fed back in real-time though mobile GSM networks to a central hub, where it is analysed with other data such as milk yields and grass length, as monitored by the Grass Hopper device. The Grass Hopper allows farmers to see where the longest, lushest grass is, so that the cows are grazing in the best area by creating location-based virtual electric fences using the cow bell collars, which confine them to specific pastures. The geo-fences can be remotely changed depending how good grazing conditions are, while cutting the time and manpower needed to manually put up and take down physical electric fences.

“Wearables, such as the Apple Watch, may be stealing the headlines, but tracking the behaviour of cows is equally vital to farmers who want to best manage their grazing,” said Tim Evans, design director at Cambridge Industrial Design, the firm that created the collar.

“We took our inspiration from the traditional alpine cow bell, using a rounded shape to minimise the size and maximise strength,” he said. “This ensures it is rugged enough to cope with being bashed against fences and feeding troughs and simple enough for farmers to remove for cleaning and recharging.”

The collar is made of tough glass-filled nylon using the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing process for fast prototyping and revisions during the field trial phase of the project. The first results are expected to be published next month.

“Contrary to popular belief, agriculture is increasingly reliant on technology to maximise yields and ensure the highest standards of animal welfare,” said Patrick Halton, managing and technology director, True North Technologies.

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