Swallowable Sensors Give an Inside Look at How Cows Are Doing - Modern Farmer

Swallowable Sensors Give an Inside Look at How Cows Are Doing

The smart capsule remains in the first of the cow’s four stomachs, gathering data about the animal’s health to relay to farmers.

Photography by Studio Peace, Shutterstock.

Far from the bucolic, soil-stained picture of farmers past, today’s agriculture is heavily influenced by technology. Sometimes, that can make things a little…weird. AT&T recently announced a partnership with smaXtec, an Austrian company that makes a sensor bundle that’s designed to be swallowed by cows.

Modern dairy farming is a game of margins; dairy farmers in the United States have long been propped up by government contracts and nutrition guidelines, but supply has risen and demand has steadily decreased. The dairy farmers that remain must squeeze every penny, and, theoretically, one way to do that is to gather more data to help do so. The smaXtec (capitalization is theirs; apparently the name is an abbreviation of “Smart x Technology”) product is a capsule that can be swallowed by cows and remains in the first of the cow’s four stomachs, delivering internal data on what’s going on with the animal.

That data can include body temperature, pH levels, movement tracking and other information, which the company’s software uses to draw some larger conclusions about the animal’s overall health. Prior to calving, for example, a cow’s internal body temperature drops, sometimes by more than a full degree Fahrenheit. The smaXtec system can detect that drop and alert the cow’s caretaker with, say, a smartphone alert. 

Theoretically, constant monitoring of temperature can also alert a dairy operator to illnesses, as well; testing of the system showed that it can, for example, detect mastitis fairly early. Earlier detection of illnesses could be hugely beneficial in maintaining the health of a herd or in using a lower quantity of antibiotics. 

AT&T’s involvement is in providing always-on internet connections, which is pretty important, assuming that AT&T actually has service in the area. Wireless networks in rural America are a patchwork, with some carriers working in some areas or a series of small regional carriers that piggyback on the big networks. 

The smaXtec partnership may seem a little silly, something like the opposite of gilding the lily, given the dire straits in which the dairy industry finds itself. It is theoretically a useful concept, though, assuming that dairy farmers, in their time of industry chaos, can afford such a system.

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