Heat stress in dairy cattle is probably the most overlooked seasonal problem here in New Zealand.
Engineering and PhD students Tyrel Glass and Baden Parr’s have set up an agri-tech start-up company called Protag, which has now raised $1m from investors.
This funding will be used to fast-track the development of their company’s smart ear tag sensors, which transmit crucial health and location data to dairy farmers within seconds.
Protag’s small, internet-enabled device clips onto a cow’s ear. This allows farmers to continuously monitor the animal’s health, grazing and breeding habits. Machine learning is used to process data from the device’s temperature, movement and location sensors. This helps farmers map animal behavioural patterns and detect the early onset of illnesses in real time.
The funds were raised from a variety of sponsors including Finistere, OurCrowd, Fonterra, Sprout and Callaghan.
Protag co-founder Tyrel Glass says the company’s small, lightweight device is 100-times more power-efficient than other GPS-based devices, which use bulkier battery packs.
“We see a future where every farmer has detailed information on the health and wellbeing of every animal,” he explains. “The power of remote sensing in animal health is huge.”
Protag is the gateway into this data, providing advanced analytics for each animal that can map the whole story of the cow, and at an accessible price point for all farmers.
Fellow co-founder Baden Parr adds that mastitis, lameness (leg and foot pain), and reproduction issues are the main ailments dairy cattle face.
“By detecting these early, Protag paves the way for more sustainable farming and improved animal welfare.”
The newly raised funds will be used to accelerate the company’s product development and validation in preparation for large scale trials. These are planned for later this year, with several expressions of interest generated from farmers in Waikato and the South Island.
The company has its immediate sights on the New Zealand market, where a farmer’s average dairy herd is 440 cows. However, Ireland and Brazil have also been identified as potential future markets.
Associate Professor in Computer Engineering and PhD supervisor of both students, Fakhrul Alam, says they have created potentially game-changing technology for the agri-tech industry.
“Their engineering smarts, combining cutting-edge remote sensing technology and artificial intelligence, will bring crucial insights to dairy farmers.”