The Quantified Cattle: Dairy Cows Are Now Tracking Their Monthly Cycle

A new device called the Silent Herdsman can remotely monitor dairy cow libido, so farmers can “maximize the probability of pregnancy.”

The Quantified Cattle: Dairy Cows Are Now Tracking Their Monthly Cycle
[Image: Dairy cows via Shutterstock]

The pastures of the future are calling for less cowbell, apparently. VentureBeat reports that a Scottish startup called Silent Herdsman has raised nearly $5 million for a sensor device to be worn around cows’ necks instead.


And why might we want to do that? “Silent Herdsman is a collar that transmits data via a wireless sensor network to an industrial PC, informing the farmer when the cow is in heat,” explained Silent Herdsman CEO Annette MacDougall in a video demonstrating the technology, which measures sensitive temperature changes in the cattle. “It’s important because, if you can maximize the probability of a pregnancy in cows, the likelihood is you’re going to increase your milk yields.”

Well, you know what they say: More milk, more money.

It’s only natural that, if we’re monitoring human pregnancies through wearable tech (like this “incubator for incubators” that’s getting in on the game) we should extend that technology to cows. And it appears cows aren’t so different from us after all. At least one herdsman reports that Silent Herdsman has alerted him to periods of “oestrus”–that’s when cows are ready to get it on–between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Because a herdsman is not hanging out with cows at that time, he says he wouldn’t have known about their, uh, status, otherwise.

The technology, which was originally developed by students at Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde, includes more than just heat sensitivity. It also “detects motion in 3-D” and boasts the ability to monitor cows “24/7, 365 days a year.” Eventually, Silent Herdsman’s creators hope that the tool will be able to measure a wider range of symptoms, too. In five years, they say, it could detect nutritional problems, for instance, or disease.

Here’s another idea to throw into the ring: What about using the tool to better monitor the methane emissions of cow farts? Scientists already guess that methane emissions are far underestimated when it comes to leaks from natural gas rigs, but methane emissions from animals are also difficult to track. In 2011, the agricultural sector made up 8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. More cow money might also mean more problems.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.