Measuring Moovement - wearables for cows

Cows ‘Under Arrest’

We’ve all seen those movies. Where the person under house arrest is strapped with an ankle bracelet. The one with a silent flashing red light that will set off an alarm the minute the prisoner steps outside a defined radius of movement. An agricultural innovation created by Fujitsu in Japan, is using ankle bracelets on dairy cows. Not so much to manage their moovement (pun intended) as to connect them to the Internet.

Internet-connected cows

That’s right, we are in the age of internet-connected cows. Not to worry though, you will not start seeing Twitter handles such as @moosyourmama or @yourmilkprovider because these cows aren’t actually using the Internet. The ankle bracelets they are fitted with are in fact Wi-Fi enabled pedometers connected to a cloud system. Dairy farmers in Japan are using these - not to ensure that only the fittest cows get milked - but to know the exact moment their cows are in estrus - ’in heat’.

Why is that important?

Well, it is obvious that a dairy farmer needs calves to stay in business. More than that, female rather than male calves are of most benefit to these farmers. A cow goes into estrus for a specific amount of time. Knowing how to detect that precious window of opportunity had long been a challenge for dairy farmers in Japan. That is, until one of them approached Fujitsu for a solution.

Fujitsu’s ‘Estrus Detection’ System

GyuHo (cow step) SaaS is the name of the estrus monitoring system Fujitsu came up with. Or, as they call it — cattle breeding support service. Through a period of data analysis Fujitsu found that, 95% of the time, a notable spike in the number of steps a cow took suggested that estrus was happening. The remaining 5% was attributed to ‘abnormal’ movement - such as a cow jumping over the fence (in search of greener pastures perhaps?) - which also provided very useful information to the farmers.

Having this degree of accuracy in estrus detection raised the successful insemination rate from 30% (when farmers would inspect the cows by hand) to about 65% (using the system). Another interesting outcome was affording the farmer control over the gender of the resulting calf.

They discovery that, with 90% accuracy and in a controlled environment, inseminating a cow in the last four hours of their “estrus window would result in a female calf.

What it means for Kenya

Although Kenya currently leads the pack when it comes to the cost and quality of internet connectivity on the continent (Africa - see Cleanleap article on BRCK; rolling out a system that relies heavily not only on this but computer literacy and a reliable electricity supply would be some of the challenges a GyuHo SaaS would face.

This situation could change, however, especially noting developments in the country’s education sector. The government is currently rolling out e-learning systems (which includes training of teaching staff) with built-in Internet connectivity to schools across the country – even rural ones (See Cleanleap article BRCK Education). Adopting a system like GyuHo Saas is therefore something that could happen one step at a time.