Bovines online: Farmers are using AI to help monitor cows


By RYAN NAKASHIMA

AP Technology Writer

SAN FRANCISCO

Is the world ready for cows armed with artificial intelligence?

No time to ruminate on that because the moment has arrived, thanks to a Dutch company that has married two technologies – motion sensors and AI – with the aim of bringing the barnyard into the 21st century.

The company, Connecterra, has brought its IDA system, or “The Intelligent Dairy Farmer’s Assistant,” to the United States after having piloted it in Europe for several years.

IDA uses a motion-sensing device attached to a cow’s neck to transmit its movements to a program driven by AI. The sensor data, when aligned repeatedly with real-world behavior, eventually allows IDA to tell from data alone when a cow is chewing cud, lying down, walking, drinking or eating.

Those indicators can predict whether a particular cow is ill, has become less productive, or is ready to breed – alerting the farmer to changes in behavior that might otherwise be easily missed.

“It would just be impossible for us to keep up with every animal on an individual basis,” says Richard Watson, one of the first four U.S. farmers to use IDA since it launched commercially in December.

Watson, who owns the Seven Oaks Dairy in Waynesboro, Ga., says having a computer identify which cows in his 2,000-head herd need attention could help improve farm productivity as much as 10 percent, which would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to his family.

“If we can prove out that these advantages exist from using this technology ... I think adoption of IDA across a broad range of farming systems, particularly large farming systems, would be a no-brainer,” Watson says.

Dairy farming is just one industry benefiting from AI, which is being applied in fields as diverse as journalism, manufacturing and self-driving cars. In agriculture, AI is being developed to estimate crop health using drone footage and parse out weed killer between rows of cotton.

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