The Internet of (Living) Things: Tracking dairy cow eating habits

Cargill and Consumer Physics team up to offer Reveal, a real-time analysis tool that tracks dairy cow diets

The Internet of (Living) Things: Tracking dairy cow eating habits
Jared Benedict (CC BY 2.0)

Consumer Physics is all about enabling people to get a better handle on their field, receiving dock or production line. The company offers the SCiO pocket-sized spectrometer, which enables farmers and agricultural organizations to analyze the makeup of the forage that dairy cows are grazing.

In the past there was a dual barrier to really taking action on this data—spectrometers were big and clunky and the data was disconnected from operational systems. But Consumer Physics is closing that loop by making the device smaller and connecting it to a smartphone application and the cloud.

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So, given this Internet of Things play, it is particularly interesting to hear that Cargill, a huge multinational in the food, agriculture, financial, and industrial products and services space is partnering with Consumer Physics to deliver a new joint offering: Reveal. Reveal is a real-time forage analysis service that puts the formerly hard to attain Cargill forage lab analysis in the palm of a hand.

The Internet of Living Things: The importance of tracking dairy cows

For those outside of the rural sector who think about dairy only as far as buying something from their local grocery store, this could seem like a pretty mundane deal. But cow’s milk is impacted both qualitatively and quantitatively by the food they eat. And given that, in the U.S. alone, millions of acres of land are farmed for feeding livestock, this is a big industry.

And the end result of that farming is huge. The scale of this industry is breathtaking: Hay inventory was over 95 million tons entering the 2016 winter, and American dairy farmers produced over 210 billion pounds of milk—from over 9 million cows spread in 41,000 herds across 50 states.

From the demand side, the scale is also massive. In 2016, every American consumed on average 18 gallons of milk, 35 pounds of cheese and 5.6 pounds of butter.

“Today’s dairy producers are constantly pushing the envelope to run a more productive and efficient operation. They need cutting-edge offerings like Reveal that allow them to make smarter nutrition decisions when they need to be made,” said Mike Messman, strategic technology lead for Cargill’s U.S. dairy business. “We believe Reveal analysis will allow producers to manage forage dry matter fluctuations as they happen and adjust their feeding programs to maximize production and income over feed costs.”

Again, while it may seem inconsequential to those in the urban setting, at scale, small changes to farming inputs can make a big different. Research by the University of Wisconsin showed changes of dry matter (DM) of 3 to 8 percentage points DM within lots of both corn silage and haylage, and variation of 6 to 10 percent DM between lots of both silage types. With today’s precision diets, those variations in dry matter can result in lost production, wasted nutrients or both.

Of course, this is of interest to Cargill, which can see an upside in terms of increased sales of specialized feed products. But imagine the scenario: The farmer takes a sample of pasture and straight away gets advice about how to supplement the herds’ grazing to maximize both yield and quality. It an awesome example of IoT being used to close the loop between data and action.

While a connected refrigerator or toaster might be a more obvious application for IoT, arguably offerings such as this, while unsexy at first blush, are more impactful over time.

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