Tech-connected cows a link in farm network

Imagine a farm where the cows are internet-connected and the farmer can access complete herd analytics at the press of a touch screen.

That’s the intention of a group of researchers on an intense three-day workshop in Bombala this week.

The group from University of NSW are hoping to bring the “Internet of Things” - where a network of devices can all ‘talk’ to each other - to the farm gate.

UNSW Maker in Residence Alex Herlihy is helping coordinate the small team of researchers, engineers, farmers and innovators, who hope to show off the fruits of their labour by Friday.

They are working with Michael Shannon on his property at Cathcart, where the 31-year-old runs a 1600ha beef and lamb enterprise.

“The Department of Industry has been reaching out to get researchers and entrepreneurs to create prototypes for real-world application,” Mr Herlihy said this week.

“We needed to see what we could achieve in three days with about 15 of us working flat out.”

The farmer was essentially the first ‘hacker’ - someone tinkering to get better productivity.

Alex Herlihy

Mr Herlihy said the intent was to create an integrated system able to offer farmers a wide range of insights about their herd via an IT platform suitable for anyone to use.

“It is about empowering farmers as much as possible and for them to be in charge of their own tech,” he said.

“The farmer was essentially the first ‘hacker’ - someone tinkering to get better productivity.

“We hope by the end of this project to have a base code and platform and be able to teach someone who may never have been into tech to code easily and take ownership of their own system - not leave it up to large outside corporations.”

Mr Herlihy explained the relatively recently coined phrase “the internet of things” is being used to describe the way in which you can control your home’s lighting, order groceries from your fridge or have your air conditioning come on all based on certain trigger points.

What his team wants to do is take that concept on to the land where everything is automatically recorded and monitored with network-connected sensors - from a calf’s lineage to each animal’s weight, environmental data on soil temperature and crop conditions, irrigation and feed troughs...and so on.

“Theoretically farmers can access a full suite of analytics at a touch - all of this is integrated into the one system,” Mr Herlihy said.

“We’re also looking at including a voice interface.

“Just think if a farmer could ask questions like, ‘how many head do I have, over this certain weight, in that specific paddock?’ and get an instant answer.”

Mr Herlihy’s team is inviting farmers and school children from the district to take a look at what they are working on this Friday, December 8.

If you’re interested, they will be at Merimbula Beach Cabins between 9am and 12pm building sensors. Register at farmersflashbuild.com.au.