The art of milking a cow is about to go high tech. A group of researchers from North Carolina State University are in the midst of research project that would make dairy farmers more productive by monitoring bovine health and milk output with RFID tags.
RFID is commonly used to track cattle in Europe, mostly for animal identification purposes. In fact, research firm IDTechEx estimates that 425 million tags were used for animal tracking globally in 2014. However, most of those solutions do not extend beyond animal tracking.
The researchers at NCSU have launched a proof-of-concept project that they hope will demonstrate how RFID can improve the health and productivity of dairy cows.
The students see multiple benefits for farmers, including providing them with easy access to information that allows them to monitor the health of their cows and ensure that the cows are being milked on schedule.
“It also saves time, since farmers don’t have to make the time to record all of this data by themselves,” says Youn Chu, a senior engineering major at NCSU who is part of the research team. “And it also makes the data more reliable, since the information is recorded automatically, eliminating the possibility of introducing human error.”
Each dairy cow would have an RFID ear tag, and RFID readers would be placed at the dairy’s milking station and at a nearby weighing station. (Cows are weighed after being milked, allowing farmers to track weight fluctuations that may be indicative of health problems.) The readers would transmit data to a remote system that records when cows enter and leave the milking station, as well as how much each cow weighs. That data is then transferred to a computer where farmers can access it.
The concept was developed by William Carr, a retired professor from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and founder of RFID Sensor Systems. Carr enlisted the help of four engineering students at NCSU to help turn the concept into reality.
The system also notifies farmers if a cow is staying too long in the milking station, if the cow is exhibiting significant changes in when it comes to the milking station (which can be a sign of health problems), or if its weight changes significantly (another possible sign of health problems). In addition, the system can notify farmers if a cow that requires medication enters the milking station, so that the farmer remembers to give the cow the necessary treatment.
Eventually, the solution could be expanded to record and track a variety of other data, such as how much milk each cow is producing.
“This is a step toward the farm of the future, incorporating agriculture into the ‘Internet of Things, and monitoring everything from feed to milk production to the condition of cattle in the field,” says Carr.