Computerised farming

The cow of tomorrow

Sensors and machine learning are finding their way into the farmyard

LIKE ELITE athletes, dairy cows have exacting nutritional requirements. “If you’re slightly up on protein, or down on carbs, you’ll see a drop in milk production,” says Robbie Walker, the boss of Keenan Systems, an Irish firm which makes feed-mixing wagons.

For that reason, the firm’s latest products have gone digital. With the help of Intel, a big American chipmaker, Keenan has developed a computer that can be attached to its wagons. Every day the firm’s nutritionists load the computer with the herd’s dietary requirements. Sensors on the wagon weigh what the farmer puts into the mixer and compare it with what the recipe calls for. “It’s a bit like making a cake,” says Mr Walker. “Even if you’re being careful, you usually put in a little too much of one ingredient, or not enough of another.”

The collected data are transmitted over the mobile-phone network to the nutritionists, who can analyse any deviations from the ideal in what the animals were fed. A big deviation…