The Internet of Things (IoT) Meets the Ranch


FarmIT App Offers Cost-Effective Livestock Management Alternative

The potential IoT universe is much larger than most machine-to-machine communications when all of the different sensors scattered around the world are factored into the equation.

 Gartner predicts there will be 25 billion things connected to the Internet by 2020.

With FarmIT, ranchers, feedlots, dairies, as well as 4-H and FFA members no longer need to purchase expensive EID readers and RFID-enabled ear tags.

Users can track individual animals by scanning one- and two-dimensional barcodes or quick response (QR) codes on livestock ear tags using the built-in cameras on their iPhones.

Pick up virtually any technology publication or visit any technology-related website, and you are likely to see references, blog posts, and articles on something called The Internet of Things (IoT). Now that nearly three-quarters of the American population owns a smartphone, IoT is seen as “the next big thing” when it comes to the digital revolution.

Internet of Things (IoT) Set to Explode to 25B Devices

Initial IoT discussions were around machine-to-machine communications (M2M) running in the cloud and the data exchanged between them; however, it is really much larger in scope than M2M when all of the sensors scattered around the world are factored into the equation. As long as these sensors are connected to the Internet, wired or wireless, they transmit data anytime, anywhere, and in real time.

The number of sensors (or things) being connected to the Internet is growing in leaps and bounds. Gartner predicts the number of things connected to the Internet will more than triple by 2020 to 25 billion things. The data generated by all of these devices will create immense opportunities for data analytics and business intelligence (BI).

IoT Meets the Farm

An area where IoT is likely to have a substantial impact is farming and ranching. Integration of IoT into farm machinery provides information farmers use to analyze crop yields, irrigation rates and planning, chemical and fertilizer applications, and much more. Tractors, combine harvesters, and other farm machinery drive themselves using GPS coordinates; driver-less tractors are right around the corner. Agronomists such as Crop Quest analyze soil types, elevations, pesticide and fertilizer histories, irrigation rates, and crop yields using IoT to help farmers make intelligent farming decisions. Farmers use RFID-enabled devices for remote monitoring and control of irrigation systems.

IoT for Livestock Management

While the implications of IoT on ranching lag behind that of farming, there are certainly tangible use cases. Often encompassing thousands of acres that require many miles of driving or time on horseback to traverse, ranches are extremely time-consuming to monitor and manage.

With some of the same technologies deployed for farming, ranchers can monitor and manage watering and feed systems remotely from their laptops, tablets, or smartphones. They can also measure water levels in water holes, as well as precipitation received and soil moisture levels at different locations on the ranch.

Overlaying this information with data on land boundaries and soil types generated by topography modeling tools such as Google Earth and Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), ranchers can make fact-based decisions used to plan grazing (from rotational stocking, to first-last grazing, to creep grazing). This enables ranchers to maximize their pastures and forage stands while maintaining sustainable grazing practices. For the portable fencing used for many of these more sophisticated grazing methods, ranchers can monitor it using RFID-enable devices to ensure their cattle, sheep, and other animals remain within the assigned enclosure.

With the likelihood that some buyers of meat (e.g., restaurants, grocery chains, etc.) may soon require sellers to demonstrate sustainable ranching practices, providing a historical record on each animal—not simply on their origins, vaccinations, and health but their grazing history—becomes a requisite.

From Manual to RFID Ear Tagging

A primary method used to track and manage the history of each animal (e.g., cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, horses) is ear tagging. Without digital technology, each tag is manually assigned a number and data on the individual animal such as vaccinations, dehorning, castration, among other details are captured in a logbook. This is a tedious exercise that provided no ranching (“business”) intelligence. Recorded transfer between buyers is problematic at best.

With the proliferation of RFID technologies, growing numbers of ranchers and feeders turned to RFID-enabled tags for their animals. Using electronic information device (EID) readers, ranchers and feeders scan information on their animals into a Web-based system used for record management on each animal such as CattleMax. Assuming buyers can access a seller’s electronic record system, historical information on each animal is transferred from one owner to the next.

But RFID solutions aren’t cheap. EID readers run in excess of $1,000 per device, and each RFID-enabled tag is around $2.00 each. For family farms and ranches and hobby ranchers with a small number of animals, the cost is simply not feasible. Further, many of the back-office capabilities of these solutions are non-native mobile apps, and thus don’t leverage the full functionality of the mobile device.

FarmIT App Alternative

Unable to afford these digital solutions, many ranchers and farmers, in addition to 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) members with animal husbandry projects, are relegated to manual record keeping for their livestock. Seeking to provide them with a cost-effective alternative, Reverbant created FarmIT. Available on iOS smartphones and tablets, FarmIT provides users with an intuitive, easy-to-use mobile app for tracking and managing their animals.

With FarmIT, users no longer need to purchase expensive EID readers and RFID ear tags. Everything can be managed through a user’s smartphone or tablet using much cheaper barcode- or quick response (QR)-enabled ear tags. Specifically, users can track individual animals by scanning one- and two-dimensional barcodes or quick response (QR) codes on livestock ear tags using the built-in cameras on their Apple iPhones. They can then view and edit each record using their smartphone or tablet. Some of the core capabilities of FarmIT include:

  • Animal acquisition information such as weight, cost, date of purchase, and date of birth
  • Animal growth and weight gain
  • Vaccination and feed costs
  • Cost of veterinary medicine, harvesting, meat cutting, and processing
  • Calculation for carcass weight using live weight and dressing percentage
  • Total cost to acquire, raise, and process each animal used to estimate breakeven price per pound/kilogram

Intelligent Livestock Management

As FarmIT uses open APIs, it can be easily integrated into many existing financial and ranch and farm management systems. Additionally, for those interested in mining broader data insights about their livestock, grazing methods, feed schedules, and more, Reverbant can work with you to create integrated data streams from multiple information sources—both internal and external—that can be turned into actionable decision making. Contact the Reverbant team today for a free consultation and recommendations.

Also, check out our Solutions Guide, “Digital Transformation on the Ranch: 10 Ways Digital Disruption Will Impact Ranching,” for more ideas on how IoT, big data, and other technologies are transforming livestock management. For those who are simply ready to get started, go to the Apple iTunes store and download the FarmIT app.