Food

How Connecterra is getting thousands of cows online

By Oliver Smith 17 November 2017
Image: Getty/funky-data.
Summary

Yasir Khokhar is on a mission to digitise farming.

When Yasir Khokhar says he started Connecterra after a problem ‘stared him right in the face’, he’s talking literally.

About five years ago, after a decade running Microsoft business units around the world, he found himself living on a farm in the Netherlands near Amsterdam, with a herd of cows outside his window.

“Around the same time a friend of mine actually quit investment banking to open up a dairy farm, and it was blatantly obvious to me that this is something which is hugely inefficient and in need of technology,” Khokhar told The Memo.

He also spotted some curious features of the dairy market, like the fact that the only difference between a cow that produces 30 litres of milk a day or 10 litres of milk a day, is the health of the animal.

If technology could make cows a little healthier, it could start a farming revolution.

It was that realisation which led him to found Connecterra and get more cows online.

The connected cow

Today Connecterra has created an intelligent cow-monitoring system.

It combines internet-connected sensors worn around cows’ necks, machine learning to crunch all the data, and an artificial intelligence called Ida which tells farmers what’s going on with their herd.

“For example, farmers need to know when cows are at the peak of their ovulation, so they can get pregnant, give birth and start producing milk. But the average farmer will miss that peak three times in a cow’s life, that’s 61 days of lost production,” says Khokhar.

Connecterra monitors each cows eating, chewing, walking, standing, laying, and more for €7.50 per cow, per month, to track its ovulation and map out when the best time to get it pregnant would be.

Moo-chine learning

Connecterra’s wealth of data also spots illness even before there are visual symptoms, based on factors like how hot or lethargic a cow is, and can help farmers figure out how different cows respond to different feed types.

With its new Ida artificial intelligence Khokhar says farmers can now ask questions and learn from the data being collected from all farmers, like what impact changing a farm’s layout or the cow’s bedding might have.

It’s like Alexa, for farmers.

“We’re democratizing that knowledge, figuring out how to run the world’s most efficient farm, and sharing those insights and recommendations with every farmer and farm of every size,” he says.

It’s already having a dramatic impact.

Happy cows

“For a typical Dutch farm, which are generally known to be very productive to begin with, we’ve seen about a 20% to 30% gain in efficiency in farm operations using Connecterra,” says Khokhar.

And with the growing global population and demands on food production expected to rise 60% by 2050, farmers are facing increasing pressure to be more productive and keep their cows healthier for longer.

“It’s not like beef or poultry, dairy cows are farmed for their life, in the sense that, the longer that a cow lives, the more productive she is,” says Khokhar.

“The farmer’s interest is to preserve the life of the animal, and we can help.”

Fancy Welsh cows treated to Fitbits & kale