IoT Blog

IoT Blog

Tracking Devices for Livestock Increase Farm Profits

by Benoit Tournier, Director of Marketing, Transportation
What if a farmer could tell that some of his cows were coming down with an illness days before the animals showed any obvious symptoms? Smart tracking devices for livestock, enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT), are making this—and much more—possible. It might seem like the work of science fiction, but today’s farmers are already using this technology to minimize their losses and improve the health of their animals. 

In fact, tracking devices for livestock go beyond just telling a farmer how his cows are doing and where they’re located; they’re capable of analyzing every single aspect of the animal’s life, from how often it chews cud to its core body temperature. The full-service aspect of this technology makes it an invaluable tool for any farmer who raises livestock. This, in turn, means that companies are turning to IoT innovators like Sierra Wireless to develop their IoT tracking solutions.

Tracking Devices for Livestock Go Beyond GPS

The most obvious use of tracking devices for livestock is to locate an animal that has wandered off from the herd, but these devices now have far broader uses. Rather than buying a simple tracker for every single animal on the farm just to have peace of mind in the rare event that one of them gets lost, farmers can instead build a custom tracking device that measures data on a daily basis. The device will still help track down an animal if it gets lost, yet in the meantime, farmers can gather a lot of additional information about that animal. This allows for improved living conditions and overall health. 

Even if you only use tracking devices for livestock to keep an eye on your herd, new advances in this technology could make life far easier. To start, farmers can attach electronic ID tags to each animal, making it possible to keep track of which animals have been sold, which animals were moved to a new location and which animals are due for a health checkup. In the past, farmers would have to color-code their tags, or keep long spreadsheets containing this information. Now, farmers simply need to scan the tag and upload the data to the cloud to manage it. Users can even set notifications for important dates that need to be remembered for each animal, such as when a cow is due for a vaccine. 

Another common use for tracking devices is as an alarm bell in case the animal leaves the farm or its enclosure. Rather than waking up in the morning to find that a cow has wandered two miles away in the middle of the night, the farmer will receive a notification the moment that animal moves outside of its enclosure. These electronic “cowbells” can also ward off predators like wolves by making loud noises or flashing bright lights if the sensor detects that a predator is nearby. Animal behavior often changes when a predator is nearby, and your tracking device could potentially detect this subtle change in behavior. 

Analyze Livestock’s Behavior and Health

Tracking devices for livestock can even work like fitness trackers, noting an animal’s body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. These internal health functions aren’t noticeable with the naked eye. Unless you do a full health exam for every animal on a daily basis, it’s easy to miss signs that suggest that an animal is coming down with a fever until the illness has already taken hold. A collar around the animal’s neck, or even a tracker attached to the skin or wrapped around the foot, could measure the animal’s temperature and other vital signs 24/7, using very little battery power in the process. The moment the farmer sees that an animal’s core temperature has risen, he can administer medication much sooner, allowing for treatment of the illness before the animal even becomes outwardly symptomatic. This also prevents the rest of the herd from catching the illness. 

How Trackers Save Money 

Many farmers are already experimenting with these smart tracking devices for livestock; wearable livestock trackers are currently a $1 billion industry, and this is expected to grow to $2.5 billion by 2025. Modern Farmer also estimates that most smart tracking devices for livestock cost less than about $10 per head to install and maintain, making them very affordable for most commercial farms. Investments in smart tracking devices for livestock save money in the long run, as farmers won’t have to suffer as many losses to the herd from predators, illness or escaped animals. Farmers will also likely see savings in the number of workers that need to be hired to maintain the farm. 

Looking Ahead to Low Power Wide Area Technology

Carriers around the world started to roll out a new standard cellular technology in 2017 called Low Power Wide Area (LPWA), which will be a perfect fit for applications like tracking that have low data rates and only need to transmit small amounts of data. LPWA is specifically designed to meet core IoT application needs, or the three C’s: Cost (devices and services costs), Current (battery life) and Coverage (reach).

Compared to traditional cellular, cost savings are achieved as LPWA technologies require much less processing power and less memory. Low current and longer battery life results from the reduced processing and more opportunities to enter deep sleep. Higher coverage comes from slowing the data rate, so you’ll never lose track of your asset, even when it’s underground or in an area with poor network coverage. LPWA embedded modules are available to start designing with today.

To design tracking devices for livestock, you’ll need to ensure to use portable, durable wireless modules that use as little battery power as possible and able to maintain a reliable connection under different weather conditions. Sierra Wireless modules are tightly integrated with our connectivity services and AirVantage IoT platform, which makes it easy to get data to the cloud, so you can develop value added services that help farmers increase their profits.

Start with Sierra to build rugged, custom tracking devices from scratch, including the cloud platform to manage the data. Watch the on-demand expert panel webinar, How IoT Enables the Tracking of Assets.