You’ve seen it in television dramas, and scifi movies – a computer scans the face of a person, provides information about his or her identity, and from there it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to an address, employment information and criminal record. Facial recognition has also been used to confirm student identity during online exams, to hold a place in line for a theme park ride, and now, to unlock your phone. And sometime in the near future, dairy farmers may be using it to monitor the health and well-being of their cows. At least that’s what Cargill and Dublin-based Cainthus are working on.
The software they’re developing will catalog animal faces, hides to monitor an individual animal’s food and water intake, body temperature, resting and sitting time, and the environment around it to better track its health and welfare.
According to Tim Loesch, Cargill animal nutrition communications director, “This technology will dramatically change how farmers take care of their animals. [It] will allow farmers to treat animals and take care of those with the greatest need, rather than always focusing on an entire herd. This allows farmers to have a more surgical and specific approach to make sure animals are cared for.”
In a matter of seconds, the technology will identify individual cows, and store information about their color patterns and movements. The alerts sent to farmers will ideally help them meet health challenges early, and adjust feed and water quickly. Cargill and Cainthus hope that it will help farmers efficiently scale their business. They’re focused on marketing the technology in the U.S. and Europe for now, and plan to make it available worldwide over the next 12 months.
But is it a good idea? Putting aside cost, and how hard the dairy industry is currently being hit by low prices for their product, are there downsides to this technology? In an interview with “Food Quality and Safety” Mark Kastel shares his concerns about the potential decline in human engagement in farming:
“We are moving farther and farther away from true, ethical animal husbandry where families have a connection to individual members of their herds,” says Kastel, the co-founder of Wisconsin non-profit farm-policy research group, The Cornucopia Institute. “Many family-scale farmers have cows with names, not numbers. For dairy farmers, who see their cattle every day, small nuances can tell them when they are dealing with a health problem and can treat them early on to maintain their quality and length of life.”
What do you think? Could you be trusted to use this technology for better animal welfare? Can you imagine how it would affect your operation and what you do?