The first ‘smart tag’ to use artificial intelligence to monitor and analyse the ‘dairy trinity’ of heat, health and feed could provide dairy farmers with improved productivity, animal welfare and overall herd health, said its developer.

Already chosen by global dairy processor, Danone, for a trial with its farmer supply base, the new Ida tag has sensor technology, machine learning and cloud computing to convert raw data into a decision-support tool, making the most of modern farm buildings and technology.

“Heat, health and feed are the three essentials for maximum cow performance,” said Yasir Khokhar, CEO of Connecterra, which makes the system. “Ida takes what others have done with trackers and tags and has created a new category 'the intelligent dairy-farming assistant'. “Unlike existing trackers, which relay data to a central collection point, we built Ida as a system based on continuous learning and intelligence.”

It uses individual sensors to collect cow data and then sends it to the cloud for analysis. From these millions of pieces of data, it then generates recommendations and solutions to problems – information which can be accessed via a web page, mobile phone or tablet.

“There’s a lot of noise in the agtech sector about collecting data,” pointed out Mr Khokhar, “but data’s useless unless you can unlock its underlying meaning and help the farmer to take action.

“Ida goes a step further, by number-crunching all the data and turning it into useful alerts and advice. An Ida-equipped farmer doesn’t have to interpret anything. Instead, he or she receives detailed insights – based around those three essentials of heat, health and feed – into the health and well-being of the whole herd as well as individual cows.”

The system has already ‘learnt’ to detect seven different cow behaviours – eating, ruminating, idle, walking, lying down, standing and drinking – with accuracy currently running at around 90% and low rates of 'false' positives. Monitoring allows it to raise an insight for a specific cow, whether related to the onset of oestrus or an as-yet-unnoticed health problem.

Danone worked with Connecterra to trial Ida in an eight-month European pilot project. “It had had a dramatic impact on the daily operation of the health and production of the cows over the course of the pilot,” said a spokesman.

“During this period, Ida alerted farmers to health concerns before any other symptoms presented themselves. Each time, these findings were confirmed by vets and was instrumental in generating cost savings, improving reproductive efficiency and boosting overall cow welfare during the pilot study,” Danone concluded.

But the system is also on a learning curve. "As more cows join the system – not just in the same herd, but other herds too – Ida’s accuracy increases further," said Mr Khokhar. “When Ida makes a recommendation, it learns from the farmer’s response. This allows recommendations to become richer and more personalised over time.

The system has two pricing models – a flat-rate subscription basis of £6.50 per cow per month; or an initial outlay of £57 and a monthly cost of £3.50 per cow. .

* It uses a tried-and-tested neck collar and each cow’s tracker sends its data to one or more base stations on the farm, which in turn uploads to the cloud. Farmers in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Spain are already using the system.