Cows across 350 farms in nearly two dozen countries around the world are now embedded with hot-dog-sized wireless sensors in their stomachs. It may sound a bit Orwellian to some, but the idea is to help larger farms better manage their herds—by catching major health changes early and then texting and emailing that info to farmers and their vets. Developed by Austrian startup SmaXtec, the sensor tracks various health metrics continuously, including stomach pH, movement, activity, and temperature, and can predict with 95% accuracy when a cow will give birth, reports Bloomberg. They can also detect when a cow is about to go into heat. "The crux of any dairy farm is fertility," one farmer says. "We are trying to have a calf per cow every year. Everything we do on the farm comes back to that."
In addition to fertility, a veterinary nurse says one benefit of continuous monitoring is that, while the device doesn't diagnose illness, it can suggest that the cow needs attention and "make you go and check earlier than you otherwise would," which could lead to earlier detection and ultimately earlier (and fewer) antibiotics. For now, distributors are picking up the $600+ startup costs to set up the network and then each cow, while farmers essentially lease the sensors for $10 per cow per month—which could really add up if these reach a significant number of bellies of the world's 1.4 billion cattle, Quartz reports. For now, SmaXtec says it's targeting herds in the US, Middle East, and China, where 25,000 dairy cows on a farm isn't unusual. (California, meanwhile, is going after its gassy cows.)