Home >> January 2016 Edition >> Herd Instinct: How Satellite M2M Will Boost Beef Yields
Herd Instinct: How Satellite M2M Will Boost Beef Yields
By Corry Brennan, Simplex Regional Sales Manager, EMEA, Globalstar


While becoming commonplace these days to track and manage assets, such as vehicles and equipment using satellite-based M2M solutions, tracking animals creates many additional challenges. 

However, as we look to technology to help us increase yields from the Earth’s limited agricultural resources, coupled with a growing demand for meat, MOOnitor Cows presents the potential to better understand cattle activity and to maximize the amount of beef produced.

To date, studies regarding cattle activities have involved students sitting in fields with clipboards for hours on end, or using wild animal tracking devices that are then combined with elaborate, offline data analysis.

A new Israeli company has developed a satellite-based solution that takes animal monitoring to a new level. By integrating the latest accelerometer technology, GPS, solar panel and satellite communications (SATCOM) technologies on a neck-mounted cattle collar, MOOnitor is able to help commercial ranchers understand how best to manage their herds to maximize beef yields, evaluated by the number of weaned calves.

Through the measurement of cattle activity, such as how much time a cow spends resting, grazing and walking, ranchers can quickly react to developing situations and events. This information helps ranchers understand the key parameters that are related to animal behavior—quality of food and weight gain patterns, estrus events, pregnancies and other medical conditions. Ranchers can also use the information to increase production and optimize the number of weaned calves among the livestock population.

The MOOnitor collar includes an accelerometer, a GPS tracker, RF communications for on-site maintenance, two solar panels measuring just 85 by 65 mm, and a Globalstar STX3 satellite chip for communications. The system gathers approximately 50MB of data every day. The MOOnitor designed compression algorithm reduces that data down to only 36 bytes within a single transmission each day. The data is then analyzed in the back-office system to calculate the herd’s daily energy balance and trending body conditions. 

Given the often remote location and roaming tendencies of the cattle, satellite is sometimes the only reliable communications option available to ranchers.

“Cattle in countries such as the US, Australia and South America graze in remote locations that are not used for any other agriculture,” said Dr. Sinay Goldberg, founder and CEO at MOOnitor. “Because cows are such independent beasts, ranchers tend to have little information about how their animals are faring, especially in large herds. By taking advantage of Globalstar’s extensive and highly advanced second generation satellite network, we deliver the information needed to effectively manage the herd and improve production right to the ranchers’ fingertips.”

For MOOnitor, one of the most important features was to be able to deploy in locations that possessed no communications infrastructure. Using Globalstar’s STX3 simplex satellite transmitter with the lowest power-consuming technology on the market enabled MOOnitor to pack data communication link into the collar, making the collars as independent as the cows carrying them. As STX3 uses little power, the collar can fully function for seven days on the unit’s internal battery, even without sunshine, and only requires two hours of sun to be fully recharged. The STX3 module is also quite small—the size of a coin—which makes the fit of the unit into the collar design quite easy.

“Although MOOnitor technology would never replace a rancher, it enables vital monitoring capabilities and information such as earlier detection of sick cows. When they are sick, cows tend to hide in a herd so they are not vulnerable to predators. This behavior makes it even more difficult for ranchers to detect if a cow is unwell. The system detects whether a cow is sick, in estrus, pregnant or lactating,” said Goldberg.

A key contributor to the project is Ran Malamud. One of the foremost experts in cattle technology, he brings 30 years of experience in nutrition and animal husbandry to MOOnitor and his expertise from the last two decades specializing in livestock management technology. “When designing MOOnitor, we combined our own in-house knowledge with data about cattle activity available from the many published research reports in the public domain.” 

MOOnitor recommends that ranchers deploy the collars across 10 to 20 percent of the herd—this enables them to extrapolate the results to very effectively manage the whole herd with a high level of statistical reliability. 

“Although the dairy business works on a per-cow basis, any results about grazing, calves and introducing bulls, are always gathered and reported at a herd level,” Malamud explained. “Just like humans, irrespective of their breed and location, some individual cows can eat a lot and stay slim. So we could get very inaccurate information if we only looked at a single animal; but with an entire herd, we get a truly accurate and reliable picture.”

At a site in the north of Israel, 30 cows out of a herd of approximately 100 in number have been wearing the MOOnitor collar since June of 2015. Through this trial, MOOnitor has been extrapolating the data across the entire herd to learn about their behavior and its impact on weaning calves and beef yields.

The information gathered and what can be inferred from that data are highly interesting and incredibly useful. For example, the data revealed the full impact of heat stress and how that can cause cattle to stop eating. There was also an instance where the collar data acted as an early warning system and indicated early on that a cow was sick.

“Throughout the trial, the hardware and communications have worked very well. The Globalstar satellite communications have achieved 97 percent success rate in message transfer, exceeding our SLAs. This figure is remarkable when one’s considers that cows do not cooperate with antenna orientation directions. We have also learned the best way to attach the collars to ensure they don’t get damaged and to ensure we receive data even when the collar location on the  cow is not optimal,” said Goldberg. 

“One new learning from the pilot is that we can measure the amount of mastication or chewing during rumination. This parameter can be related to the amount of biomass being consumed or efficiency of converting this into beef. This is a major leap forward when you consider that previously a person would have to spend the hours manually recording such data. We believe that analyzing these metrics could provide further valuable data in the future,” he added. 

Before going into production later in 2016, MOOnitor is producing 100 collars to be deployed in beta testing in target markets that include Australia, the US, South America and South Africa. By gathering information from different environments and breeds, MOOnitor will be able to correlate the data from the Israeli pilot with the newly added pilots to further enhance data understandings. 

The worlds of Precision Agriculture, M2M, IoT and satellite communications are resulting in exciting new developments for agriculture and farming. Human health monitoring has quickly taken off, and now cattle and ranchers can benefit from identical technologies. As ranchers understand their animals’ wellbeing, they can maximize beef production to help their bottom line.

Corry joined Globalstar in February of 2013 as Regional Sales Manager for EMEA. In this role, he has responsibility for Sales and Business Development of Globalstar’s suite of Simplex Devices and Chipsets, providing satellite-based asset tracking and management solutions across the transport, marine and remote asset management sectors.

Earlier in his career, he held senior sales roles at major enterprises, including Eircom, where from 2000 to 2010, he successfully held several key operational and managerial roles, including Head of Order and Fault Management. He then moved on to become Head of Key Account Management and, later, Head of Marketing.

Corry holds a BA from Trinity College Dublin as well as an MBA from Trinity College, where he was a Brendan McDonald Scholar.