Ranchers guard their livestock via the Internet of Things

Wireless connectivity, sensors and smartphones are helping farmers track their animals remotely

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an umbrella term that is often used to describe machine-to-machine communications linking factory equipment, travel signalling gear or power management systems. But the Spanish telecoms giant

Telefónica has another usage case – managing cattle.

Telefónica said last month that it will work with Israeli startup Cattle-Watch in Latin America and North America, providing connectivity to remotely count cattle and monitor a herd’s health, location, movements and behaviour for ranchers. It can also protect against theft via warning alerts and provide insights into animal behaviour, nutrition, pasture quality and birthing/pregnancy. The service can also be used in conjunction with drones to help count animals.

Cattle-Watch will incorporate Telefónica’s Smart m2m, a platform for managing IoT communications. Ranchers can observe their livestock and receive all relevant information via smartphones or other connected devices.

Bulls are fitted with solar-powered collars which act as communications hubs and calves have ear tags that send status information to the collar hubs via a Bluetooth network every 30 seconds. The bull collars send back information to ranchers via cellular or satellite networks. Decisions can then be made based on the information gathered, for example withdrawing inefficient bulls or increasing the number of bulls.

Cattle-Watch says that its service helps in areas where terrain is very rough or otherwise difficult to access . It claims that yields in weaned calves can increase sharply and animal welfare improved, all without on-site human supervision. In late 2015, Cattle-Watch said it would work with Gilat SatCom for the latter to provide Iridium satellite communications.

Ilan Arbel, Cattle-Watch CEO, says that the 12-person company sees big opportunities particularly in South America, Africa and Australia, although he is also fielding requests from North America, the UK, Spain, Italy and elsewhere. In Latin America he said its chances in Brazil and Argentina had been hurt by economic issues but Uruguay, Paraguay and Mexico were strong markets.

“Today, the statistics are that 1,000 cattle mothers deliver only 450 calves and we want to increase that to 600,” Arbel says.

The technology is improving but already reliable enough to know when cattle are resting, grazing, well or unwell, Arbel adds. The scale of the opportunity? Arbel says that there are 1.3 billion cattle worldwide and his aim is to charge about $1 per month, per head for the Cattle-Watch service.  

Cattle farming plays a huge role in many Latin American economies; Uruguay has four head of cattle (12 million) for every human being (three million), for example. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that many ranchers have been enthusiastic early adopters of new technologies. This is in part to improve protection against diseases like foot-and-mouth or BSE (‘mad cow’ disease) but also for purposes of traceability and to show provenance.

Of course, advances in technology are not unique to Latin America. From Australia comes the iHerd app for tracing cattle and monitoring treatments. The developer claims the app is now in use in over 120 countries and in the hands of 40,000 users. And as data from such services is processed using the latest algorithms, the next generation of cattle farmers might have a different level of insight into how best to manage livestock.