The future of agriculture: Artificial intelligence gives ranchers an extra eye on their herds

BETSY, short for Bovine Expert Tracking And Surveillance, is an Alberta-developed app that uses facial recognition cameras on livestock. If the app detects strange behaviour, it will alert the user.

The BETSY app uses cameras to follow and track cattle to scan for behaviour changes

Brown cow with ear tags in confined feedlot.
BETSY, or Bovine Expert Tracking And Surveillance, is an app developed by Alberta-based company OneCup AI that allows those in agriculture to monitor the daily activities of their cattle through its artificial intelligence system. (Nati Harnik/The Associated Press)

Alberta rancher Ashley Perepelkin is getting peace of mind that her cattle are safe and healthy, thanks to an app that uses artificial intelligence to keep an eye on her herd.

BETSY, short for Bovine Expert Tracking And Surveillance, uses facial recognition cameras that watch her animals. If the app detects strange behaviour, it will alert the user.

It's a time-saver for Perepelkin, a busy mother of four who manages about 160 calving cows at Perepelkin Farms, the Clearwater County ranch 90 kilometres southwest of Edmonton that she owns with husband Andrew. He runs the grain operation and works a full-time job in the winter.

Monitoring the herd during calving season means checking on the cows at least every three hours — including overnight and in winter temperatures that can reach –30 C.

"If there's something happening, she can let me know," Perepelkin said about BETSY. "That way, I'm hopefully not going on 60 days of limited sleep." 

BETSY was developed by Alberta-based OneCup AI to give people working in agriculture another tool to make their jobs easier.

LISTEN | CEO of artificial intelligence company talks to CBC's Edmonton AM about how technology can better track cattle:

OneCup's CEO, Mohka Shmigelsky, comes from a ranching and farming family. She told CBC's Edmonton AM that inspiration for the app came from family members who work in agriculture in southern Saskatchewan.

Shmigelsky said the app uses facial ID technology to identify individual animals and then watches them all day to provide producers with various metrics on their animals. 

But the app was designed to be smart enough to detect whether something is wrong with any of the animals. 

"BETSY is really more of a proactive system," Shmigelsky said. "So in addition to having that live video feed, you also have BETSY [with] the skills of a ranch hand, watching your animals to let you know different things about them."

A woman hugs a cow while sitting in a tractor with two young children.
Rancher Ashley Perepelkin in a photo from 2019 with two of her four children. The BETSY app is revolutionizing how people in agriculture can take care of their animals. (Ashley Perepelkin)

The app will alert users if a cow is calving or limping. It even monitors food and water intake. 

"Calving season in the spring is a good opportunity for BETSY to really shine, she watches the animals and notifies the producer proactively if the animals are going into labour," Shmigelsky said.

Cows aren't the only animals the app recognizes: Shmigelsky said it can track over 50 different animals including horses and sheep. 

Three cows with visual markers labelling each cow's body part.
The BETSY app uses cameras to follow and track cattle to scan for behaviour changes. (OneCup AI)

Perepelkin first heard of the app while taking a cattle artificial insemination class at Olds College of Agriculture & Technology. 

The app impressed her so much that, for the past year, their farm participated in data collection and beta testing, which gave Perepelkin a peek into its potential.

Perepelkin is excited to see BETSY in full force as the app will be used this coming winter.

"It's something to not get scared away from ... stuff is turning into a technological world."

WATCH | BETSY's ID system demonstrated here is based on facial features:


Mrinali is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has worked in newsrooms across the country in Toronto, Windsor and Fredericton. She has chased stories for CBC's The National, CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup and CBC News Network. Reach out at Mrinali.anchan@cbc.ca

With files from Edmonton AM