How Broadband Helps Cows Produce More Milk

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Key Takeaways

  • Dairy farmers are increasingly using broadband technologies to track their herds, but high-speed internet access can be hard to come by in some rural areas. 
  • Technology that dairy farmers use includes devices that can track how much time a specific cow in their herd spends lying down versus how much time they spend moving.
  • Beef cattle can be traced by Bluetooth with a new technology that promises to track local producers’ livestock from pasture to plate.
A farmer using a tablet on a cattle farm.

Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

Cows need hay, but farmers must have broadband to keep the milk flowing. 

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers recently joined a national push for better broadband access in agricultural areas to keep farms running competitively. It’s a sign that modern farming is as much about robotics and IT as milk buckets. Dairy farmers increasingly are turning to broadband solutions to keep their cows producing as much milk as possible. 

"Broadband is taking a leading role in so much that occurs day-to-day on the farm," David Darr, senior vice president and chief strategy and sustainability officer of industry group Dairy Farmers of America, said in an email interview.

"From simple tasks such as checking the weather or implementing new technologies that we take for granted—having wireless cameras in barns to monitor the cows, protect against human error, and provide safety and security—to more complex tasks like machine learning and artificial intelligence, so much of what we do is connected.”

Churning to Get Online

Getting connected is a major issue in farm country. A recent study by Broadband Now found that 42 million Americans lack access to broadband internet service, most of them in rural areas.

One of the main barriers to broadband is that it often is not profitable for the large internet providers to connect rural properties to the network, Scott Neuman, a vice president at cloud software company Calix, said in an email interview. 

"Broadband has quickly become as necessary as electricity was over 100 hundred years ago, and this need was only exacerbated by the pandemic."

"In many cases, local electric cooperatives have stepped in to provide broadband services, much like they electrified rural areas during the Great Depression," he added. "Broadband has quickly become as necessary as electricity was over 100 hundred years ago, and this need was only exacerbated by the pandemic."

In the midst of the pandemic, internet providers were able to invest in broadband initiatives due to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). And, if passed, the proposed federal infrastructure plan will provide more support for extending broadband. 

Many dairy farmers have increased their reliance on broadband in recent years to do things like managing feeding and milk schedules, Darr said. 

"However, access equity remains a priority as many farmers still lack reliable broadband," he added.

It’s not just humans that need to track their movements with Fitbits or Apple Watches. Technology that dairy farmers use includes devices that can track how much time a specific cow in their herd spends lying down versus how much time they spend moving using the animal equivalent of wearable technology, Darr said. 

For example, the EmbediVet Sensor is a small implantable device that is embedded under the animal's skin. It detects and records the heart rate, temperature, and activity levels of the animal at regular intervals. 

Farmer using a laptop standing in the middle of a milking barn.

Westend61 / Getty Images

"This data—provided to the farmers in real-time thanks to broadband technology—improves our knowledge of the cows’ health and wellbeing, as well as its diet and exercise regime," Darr said.  "This impacts the predicted and actual levels of yield, as well as the quality of the milk produced." 

Beef. It’s What’s Connected

Dairy cows aren’t the only ones that are going high-tech. Beef cattle can be traced by Bluetooth with a new technology that promises to track local producers’ livestock from pasture to plate. The HerdDogg Traceability Program offers Bluetooth 5 animal sensor tags, wireless readers, and data sets linked to a physical QR code. 

"Everyone wants to know where their food comes from, what care was given to the animal, the food miles it traveled, and how locally that meat was raised. It’s clear that informed consumers will pay a premium for a product they can trust," said Melissa Brandao, HerdDogg’s founder in a news release.

"The problem is that the Big Meat industry is not set up to provide that information. The system in place today is structured to channel all meat through a monolithic operation that obscures provenance details from consumers and diverts profit from ranchers. We want to fix that."

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