It’s been dubbed “Tinder for cows”, but the tongue-in-cheek headlines belie the sophisticated and practical tools being generated by the Sense-T Beef & Dairy Project.

Part of the innovative Sense-T Program, the project is pioneering the use of sensor technology and data analytics to revolutionize farming.

Scientists from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), at the University of Tasmania, and CSIRO are leading the project and have developed algorithms to predict when Daisy is in the mood, so to speak.

More than 40 cows have been fitted with collars that measure movements that can be classified into 10 behaviours, including grazing, ruminating, resting, searching, walking and standing, linked to when a cow is on heat (oestrus).

“A cow only produces milk after she has had her first calf and needs to be pregnant once a year in order to keep producing milk,” Beef & Dairy Project co-leader Dr Richard Rawnsley of TIA explains.

“Artificial insemination should happen within four to 12 hours of an oestrus event, but the majority of events occur at night and can be missed the following morning. Timely detection of oestrus is crucial to ensuring successful artificial insemination, a tight calving pattern and a continuing milk supply.”

The team is now analysing the data to identify illnesses such as mastitis and lameness to help farmers detect them early, and to support decisions about how to feed individual cows.

“Each Sense-T project is using sensor technology and data analytics to help solve industry challenges”

The team also spend quite a bit of time watching grass grow. Sensors are measuring the growth of pasture and combining the data with historical growth rates and weather data. Algorithms are then applied to predict the rate of growth over the next 90 days.

This information is crucial for farmers in calculating how much supplementary feed they may require. Accurate purchasing decisions can have a big impact on the bottom line. The Beef & Dairy project complements the three other Sense-T projects, which are in the fields of aquaculture, viticulture and water management.

Each is using sensor technology and data analytics to help solve challenges such as production optimisation, disease management and environmental impact. About 100 researchers across the University and CSIRO are involved.
Sense-T Director Ros Harvey said the first step was to bring together the farmers with ICT experts, researchers and industry bodies to ask what they wanted from Sense-T. “We also involve end users and get their input into the technology development,” she said.

Sense-T is combining all the data into one platform, along with other available public and private data sets, so it can be shared between industries and regions. For example, oyster farmers can use data from upstream vineyards to predict water quality.

The research agenda is being expanded to include industries such as freight and logistics, health and tourism.

“Studies have shown that researchers can spend up to 85 per cent of their time wrangling data,” Ms Harvey said.

“Sense-T is seeking to transform research by establishing a sustainable knowledge infrastructure that collects and manages vast amounts of data.”

Ever thought of studying Agricultural Science? The University of Tasmania offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees such as the Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Master of Applied Science (Agricultural Science).