IoT technology is giving farmers more time to spend on their most important tasks and, at last, the promise of more sociable working hours.
With a little help from the IoT, some farmers can avoid early mornings and let robots do the work. One example is David Johnstone, a cattle farmer on New Zealand’s South Island.
Speaking with the New Zealand Herald, Johnstone describes how a small team of four robots has improved the performance of his farm and also his work/life balance. These robots automate every stage of the milking process, from teat cleaning to attaching cups to each cow.
On top of that, each cow receives an automated health check and is given supplementary feed according to its needs. And the best thing about Johnstone’s system, which has also been adopted by many surrounding farms? It’s voluntary. He says that the cows enter and leave the shed whenever they want to.
Real-time cow monitoring
Although he admits that the initial outlay for the robotic equipment and data-gathering collars worn by each cow wasn’t a small one, his herd is now noticeably happier and healthier.
The collars provide Johnstone with a stream of information on his herd’s movement, rumination and temperature. A pedometer on each collar is even able to give data on head swings. More swinging reflects when the cows are getting too hot under the collar, according to Johnstone.
By tracking how many chews each cow makes before regurgitating, Johnstone is able to tell if there are any outliers, perhaps indicating ill-health. Rumination monitoring isn’t necessarily a new technology, but the information gathered is becoming more accessible and applicable to farmers.
“It’s making that data more user-friendly to the farmers and looking for interactions between things,” he said.
Hazel Copeland, CFO at UK farming cooperative Woldmarsh, agrees that the IoT is bringing new levels of efficiency to the agricultural sector.
“We’re seeing mobile technology used to a far greater degree, with tablets being used in farms and sat navs helping inform spraying techniques for chemicals on fields,” she said. “Technology is being used to help farms become more efficient, allowing greater control.”
In some parts of the world, IoT technology is needed to keep farmers aware of their livestock’s location. Satellite provider Globalstar gives tracking capabilities to Findmy, a Norwegian start-up dedicated to protecting roaming livestock.
Globalstar’s Corry Brennan points out that “the combination of small chips and satellite communications has made it affordable to track livestock, particularly cattle, sheep and deer which roam in remote parts of the world.”
“Given the value of livestock, there is enormous potential in understanding the impact of breeding and animal behaviour on welfare, health and products such as meat and wool. With IoT trackers it is possible to measure the amount an animal is eating, resting and walking to build a profile of its behaviour.”