Australian cattle stations (aka ranches) can be thousands of square kilometres in area, so checking on all the cows is a huge task. With that in mind, the CSIRO national science agency has teamed up with agtech startup Ceres Tag to develop an ear tag that not only tracks the animals' whereabouts, but also detects unusual activity.

Designed to last the lifetime of the animal, the weatherproof tag is powered by a built-in solar panel, and is equipped with a GPS unit – the latter allows ranchers to locate individual cows via a web portal on their computer. This in turn lets them know where the herd is grazing, and if any of its members have escaped or been stolen. Ordinarily, surveys by aircraft or off-road vehicles are required for this purpose.

The tags additionally utilize integrated accelerometers to detect the telltale unusual movements associated with cows being sick, giving birth, or reacting to "disturbances in the herd." If such movements are detected, or if a theft/escape is detected by the GPS, the rancher is alerted via their computer or smartphone.

Last week, the technology was successfully field-tested on 100 cattle at CSIRO's Lansdown Research Station near Townsville, Queensland. Plans now call for making the tags smaller and lighter, along with adding a body-temperature sensor that would allow for earlier warnings of illnesses.

"Aussie farmers need every bit of help they can get right now, so we are pleased it has taken less than a year for this technology to move from the research phase into development for a real-world trial on cattle," says CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) group leader Dr. Ed Charmley.

Sources: CSIRO, Ceres Tag

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