The awareness of the potential negative impact of livestock farming on both the environment and animal welfare is rising in Europe. Dairy processors, NGOs and the general public challenge the livestock farming sector to provide dairy cows with more access to pastures. This can be used as an ammonia emission reduction measure while impact on cows' wellbeing still have to be demonstrated. At the same time, the livestock farming sector is searching for more efficient production methods, which often leads to less pasture time per cow. This use case demonstrates an automated system that is able to track the position of the individual cow, to determine whether a cow is indoors or on pasture. Data on the time and location of cows will enable farmers to significantly decrease the time looking for cattle, to control ammonia emissions and label milk as coming from pastures.
Easing the farmer’s mind
Monitoring the exact location of free grazing cattle significantly reduced the stress of farmers’ daily operations. More importantly, it helps them to rescue and save cows which might have gotten lost in the vast area or ended up trapped in muddy ground. The latter is the case for Kris and Geert who operate a dairy farm called Saeftingherhof at the border of Belgium and the Netherlands.
From May until October, the cows graze in a nature reserve area of 250 hectares, comprised of a delta of many mud flats and salt marshes with trenches that fill up twice a day with the salty Schelde water. To respond to this challenge, Kris and Geert decided to team up with Olivier Guiot, the Use Case Coordinator, and the researchers of Sensolus who developed the StickNTrack technology. This solution offers remote monitoring of natural grazing cow to facilitate pasture management, pasture milk auditing and free nature grazing. For Kris and Geert the technology proved especially useful for the latter since it is an easy to implement GPS tracker with very long battery life. It put their minds at ease because they knew exactly where any cow is in real-time. Furthermore, it optimised their time management because they did not have to wander around their vast dairy farm looking for lost cows anymore. Naturally, this also reduced the stress of their daily operations. Ultimately, it also proved to be a great return on investment. Within the test period, 2 cows that were trapped could be saved from their destiny. This did not only prevent a sad moment for Kris and Geert, but it also meant the prevention of a potential revenue loss of about 5.000 EUR which is the average price of a dairy cow. In these regards, the comparably small investment for the StickNTrack collars pays off quickly. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the farmers of Saeftingherhof still trust in this solution until today.
Leveraging location and activity data
The Sensolus web app includes a dashboard offering alerts and reports to the end-users. By applying specific algorithms to the location and activity data stemming from the GPS trackers, insights can be derived.
It does not only alert the farmer if a cow is trapped, the reports also provide information on the behaviour of the cow by monitoring its visit to drinking locations. Furthermore, unusual movements such as deviation from the herd can be detected. Such a movement can be an indicator of diseases such as lameness. In addition to that, the movement patterns at herd level were evaluated to identify individual deviations more precisely.
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Security, privacy and trust are justified concerns of end-users. The use case team thus developed their solution in a highly secure way while complying the data protection legislation. Since the entire IoT technology including hardware, firmware and software is developed integrally by Sensolus, data security is guaranteed. The success of their solution encouraged the researchers to explore further usability of the already existing data. Currently they are developing features such as virtual fencing or theft protection. This enables them to further support farmers and gives the team the chance to expand their technology beyond the dairy sector.
Achievements, products & services
STICKNTRACK low-power indoor-outdoor tracking service that combines LPWAN SIGFOX network with BLE technology
Clear insights and digital reports on the location of every animal and their pasturing time via the management platform
Elimination of manual record keeping for costly on-farm audits of dairy processors