HIGGINSVILLE, Mo. — This herd of Holsteins is Chris Heins’ livelihood and his passion.
“They’re so easy to work with,” Heins said. “They’re pretty fun. They’re curious. They all have their own personality.”
His family has been farming near Higginsville, Missouri for six generations.
“We went from 80 cows to 650 cows,” Heins said.
For decades one thing’s remained the same.
“Through my grandpa and great grandpa, you always care for the cows,” Heins said. “That’s the name of the game. It still is today.”
But much has changed on the family farm, particularly in the technology Heins uses.
“When I first got out of college I didn’t own a smartphone,” Heins said. “Now it’s one of my huge management tools.”
Today each cow wears an RFID tag that helps Heins track its production.
“Whenever she goes into the parlor to be milked, it’ll read her number and then it’ll sync it to my phone,” Heins said.
It’s an impressive system, but tech companies are about to take it a big step further.
Melissa Brandao is the CEO of HerdDogg, a startup that’s developing what she describes as a “Fitbit for cows.”
“What we’ve been able to do is develop into a global system for animal health,” Brandao said.
Brandao worked with Kansas companies like Sprint and Dairy Farmers of America to bring the idea of wearable technology to the barnyard.
“It’s a smart tag we install in the animal’s ear,” Brandao said. “It generates biometric data.”
It’s similar to the way your fitness tracker monitors your heart rate or activity level.
Emerging technology lets farmers constantly monitor an animal’s body temperature, weight, how much milk it’s producing.
“It’s detecting a baseline for individual animals, saying that animal is acting normal or not normal,” Brandao said.
The smart tag can even record outdoor climate data. Brandao said her company lets farmers find sick animals faster.
“Our own health is linked to our food supply,” Brandao said.
She said a system like hers can help deliver products like milk and cheese to consumers safely and efficiently.
“They’re going to be more satisfied and comfortable with the final consumption in the food supply,” Brandao said.
The “Fitbit for cows” hasn’t reached Heins’ farm yet, but the 31-year-old dairyman is excited about whatever tech comes next.
“Each year I’m able to take better care of my cows because of the technology that’s offered to us,” Heins said.
And no matter what’s next in his industry, Heins said there’s another thing that will never change: the farmer.
“At the end of the day, it takes someone who knows the animal, who can say ‘that girl over there, this is what she needs’ you need those hands on people, too,” Heins said.