LED Ear tags

Looking a Little Green

Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Ear tags that flag sick cattle are on the verge of revolutionizing livestock care. (Image: UNL Communications)

Using a receiver about the size of a sheet of paper, as many as 62,000 cattle spread across 2 miles can be electronically tracked and analyzed for even the most subdued signs of illness. What happens if an animal is sick? They go green, literally.

A bright green LED light on the animal's ear makes it easy to spot and pull sick cattle for treatment. The technology, developed by Quantified Ag of Lincoln, Nebraska, is primarily aimed at feedlot operations to date. The system, in beta testing now, is set to launch commercially this year.

Vishal Singh is founder and chief executive officer of the startup. Initially a drone engineer, he proved his initial concept for this system using Bluetooth and a Texas Instruments board encased in plastic and attached to the ear of an animal. Quantified Ag cofounders Andrew Uden, chief operating officer and

Brian Schupbach, chief technology officer, came on board early to help test and refine the system. Today the small startup company continues to work through the patent process, and has received certification from the Federal Communications Commission. Their beta testing program is ongoing in 10 feedlots across Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Uden says they expect version one of their commercial ear tag to go on line this summer with feedlots. They hope to get the commercial system in several U.S. operations this summer, and are developing working relationships abroad, as well, having filed for provisional patents in both Brazil and Australia.

The emphasis of Quantified Ag is not research-oriented, stresses Uden. It's about cost effectiveness and efficiency in a system intended to save feedlots significant amounts of money in terms of treatment costs and death loss. Mortality rates in feedlots can vary widely, but an industry average is between 1% and 2%. Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is considered the most common illness at U.S. feedlots, with a price tag attached to that one disease of between $800 and $900 million annually due to deaths, treatment and lost feed efficiency.

Uden explains reducing these losses is tied to spotting animal behavior that indicates illness early.

"We are not trying to manage a lot of fine grain details. We are monitoring those things that tell us if an animal is sick or not. And we want to do that as cheaply and efficiently as possible."

He adds engineering costs, and trying to be sure they have a product that can work day in and day out in a feedlot environment of is extremely challenging.

"A feedlot is hot and dry in the summer, and it's cold and wet and muddy in the winter," says Uden. "That's a tough environment for electronics. But we have a system with backups in place, so if something happens we can fix it. That's the biggest thing here, the feedlot industry has a high bar when it comes to performance."

Cost for Quantified Ag's system is still not entirely set, but affordability is something Uden stresses. He says they anticipate, for example, an ear tag will be around $15. There will be a one-time, up front cost for the associated hardware, which has not been determined. Setup will include analytics, biometrics and health management software--all a part of the system. Ear tags, Uden says, should last about one year before they need to be replaced. All the data collected is on a cloud-based platform, so it's easily accessible from laptops, phones, tablets--whatever medium the user prefers.

How does this ear tag work? It is mounted on the animal's ear, pointing down into the ear canal. A surgical staple is used to hold it in place, applied with a modified tagging gun. Uden says there is little damage to the ear, retention rates for the tags are in the high 90s and infections due to application are very low.

The tag includes a temperature sensor, and also collects head movement and overall mobility. When behavior is noted that may indicate illness, such as a raised temperature or reduced movement, the LED light on the tag switches on.

"Our system is all about ease of use and cost effectiveness and accuracy," says Uden. "These systems are built specifically for the operations using them, and the goal is to save money by catching animals early when treatment is more effective. It will allow better use of antimicrobials through deep data analytics."

For more information: http://quantifiedag.com/…

(ES/CZ/BAS)