Technology has seeped into every domain of life and agriculture is not far behind. The latest word around is that dairy farms in America are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to monitor their cows health.
Animal husbandry, dairy farming, cattle rearing and breeding are not as straight forward as growing crops or horticulture plants. Animals are live beings and need constant care and protection. Their health is of utmost importance if we intend them to produce milk, or for purposes of meat production etc. Farmers in America take utmost care of their animals and yet there are many instances of bird flu, swine flu and other diseases that infest animals.
Cows in particular tend to get sick easily and because of that they eat less, walk differently and make sad sounds. In a huge farm that caters to mass production of dairy products, it is difficult to identify which cow or how many cows are sick and need care. Although farmers give individual attention to cows but it is not feasible if the numbers are large. The ratio of farmers to cows is less and hence caring for each one’s well being is physically not possible. Hence technology has come to the rescue in the form of AI system Ida developed by a Dutch company called Connectera. This technology is available in the form of a fit bit that is tied to the cows neck to monitor its movement and track activities such as when is it ready for insemination, when is it sick, when is it chewing the cud etc.
Ida is the Intelligent Dairy Farmer’s Assistant that easily tracks the cow’s tiniest move and is able to store volumes of data for further reference. Ida just like the fit bit is available on the app store for iphones and Google play store for android phones. Farmers now simply need to check the app for information on their cow’s health and take decisions affecting their safety and well being. Ida is built on Google’s open-source AI platform called Tensor Flow that senses motion through the device. With the help of this technology, farmers not only know when the cow is sick to take the rightful action, but are pre-warned a day or two before. It can also learn behavior such as walking, standing, laying, and chewing, and ring the alarm bells if a particular cow shows any unusual behavior.
Ida learns the animal’s behavior, its patterns, generates insights, and lets farmers provide feedback to the app. Farmers also get recommendations on how to resolve issues. Farmers across America are cashing in on this technology to maintain an efficient dairy farming system that is a lot more productive than the manual system. Farmers have noticed a 20 – 30% rise in efficiency levels after using this app and technology and are greatly benefitted by its usefulness.
When new technology is implemented and becomes a rage as well, there are still those who doubt the effectiveness of the technology claiming that they are well in touch with their cows on the farm to know which cow is sick and needs care.
The debate for those not for this technology is that can new technology beat old fashioned intuition? There is no argument here that some farmers may be well in tune with their cows and take necessary measures to ensure their safety and well being but it is simply about being more productive. It is definitely more seamless to know data and facts about your cows on a large farm than manually tracking each one. Whenever there is new technology, there will be resistant as there is always resistance to new ideas. Hopefully this technology will take off for the better globally and be implemented in other parts of the world as well.
Netherlands has also been using this technology and China is using this technology for tracking pigs using RFID tags and overhead cameras. The argument against this technology is that dairy farmers have always been around and farm production has always been good so why this technology now and considering the cost to implement it is about 80$ per cow. The cost is huge, but so are the benefit and the difference lies in saving a premature death of a cow and after all we do want our animals alive and safe. The technology is especially useful on large farms that have very few farmers. Some farms are facing labor crunch and are in dire need of dairy farmers. In such cases, this AI technology is a saving grace.
Man cannot compete with machine especially in terms of accuracy of data and the Ida app can store data for future use as well. It can also work as a reference for other farmers or beginners in dairy farming. Google CEO Sundar Pichai stresses the fact that AI technology is a boon for humanity and is extremely important today. Ida is an effective technology to monitor every movement of the cow and track its patterns as well as changes in patterns. Dairy farmers have used sensors for years but Ida’s developers claim that it can do things old programs cannot by learning cow behavior patterns that can pin point injuries, predict onset of certain diseases and predict peak ovulation time with 90% accuracy. This is something that humans are not capable of doing. It is not possible to know these factors just by looking at a cow and for this we need technology whether we like it or not, at least for the betterment of cows and their health as well as farm production and increased yield.