British Columbia

Smart cows: The future of ranching?

Researchers are working to develop a tag for cattle that would use GPS to track their location and movement and send that information directly to a rancher's cell phone.

Researchers working to develop solar-powered GPS tracking tags for cattle

Researchers are also looking at how to use the tags to monitor health parameters in cows. (CBC)

B.C. and Alberta researchers have come up with a solar-powered cattle tracking tag that would allow ranchers to access information about the location of their cows from their cell phones.

"What we're endeavouring to do is to get our cows connected to the internet," says researcher John Church.

The GPS tag can be found by drones that have SIM cards on them, which then sends a signal to a cell tower and relay the information to a rancher's mobile device.

"Just knowing where your cows are located on range logistically is a huge benefit to the ranchers in terms of being able to find them to round them up," Church said.

Church says he and his team are also looking at adding a three-axis accelerometer chip to the tag, which measures vibration and motion, to help identify if an individual cow is acting erratically.

He says this would prompt a text message to be sent to the rancher letting them know something of concern is happening.

Will ranchers use this technology to track herds? Church says yes.

"I'm amazed at how quickly ranchers have taken up drone technology," Church said.

Watch as drone tracks cows using infrared technology 0:25

While it's proving popular, the technology isn't without technical bugs that need to be solved before the app can go live.

"One of the things we've run into is when we're trying to find the cattle, the water and the trees block our radio frequency identification signal," Church said.

Researchers have also had issues with battery life.

"GPS function drains a lot of battery, very quickly," he said.

"We can't have the GPS enabled all the time. We want to have the antenna on the drone wake up the tag just long enough for it to find its GPS location, send the signal and then shut off to conserve battery."

They also need approval from the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency.

Church says the app should be up and running by fall this year. He hopes it'll be widely used across the ranching industry within the next five years.

With files from Doug Herbert and Daybreak Kamloops