For centuries farmers and ranchers had no option but to manually monitor, protect and care for their herds as best they could using limited resources. It’s a tough job, especially for those at the smaller end of the commercial farming scale. Thankfully, emerging tech can help reduce the heavy workload and eliminate the reliance on sporadic observations and imperfect recollections of each animal’s unique behaviour patterns.
Horse owners, for example, can now take advantage of the benefits of a wireless herd tracking solution like Farm Jenny for Horses, a new animal wearable and connected equine monitoring platform. Developed by Pittsburgh-based agricultural technology company, Farm Jenny, the solution is designed to help horse owners keep a closer eye on the various activities and behaviours indicative of a horse’s overall health status and potential medical issues. The user tracks this information from either a web-based dashboard or the Farm Jenny iOS or Android app on their smartphone or tablet.
“Farm Jenny for Horses provides farmers with freedom and peace of mind by bringing the power of machine learning to small farms,” says Rob Crouthamel, Co-founder and COO, Farm Jenny. “Our solution addresses the everyday worries of horse owners such as a horse being out in bad weather and the number one horse emergency, colic.” (Colic is a generic term referring to a combination of symptoms of often fatal abdominal problems in a horse.)
The sensor-based platform records animal activity levels including walking, lying down, rolling, grazing or running, as well as changes over the past day, week or month. This behavioural data can be used to assess potential signs of illness or injury. In addition, the device’s built-in sensors record temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure, which helps determine the horse’s comfort and provides context for evaluating animal behaviour. Farm Jenny for Horses also tracks the animal’s location, allowing the owner to follow its position in relation to facilities, food and water, as well as other horses in the herd. As Crouthamel explains: “A horse lying down and rolling in a grassy field on a sunny spring day is very different to one rolling in the mud on a [very cold] night.”
Remotely tracking each horse’s health and location is a key benefit of Farm Jenny for Horses. “Since horse owners can’t be with their horses 24/7, Farm Jenny provides all of the information they need in one place,” Crouthamel says.
The Farm Jenny solar-powered field receiver relays data from each horse to a central gateway, that in turns forwards the data to the Cloud where it can be retrieved by the owner via a web-based dashboard
Farm Jenny for Horses employs a network of wearable sensors, solar-powered field receivers, beacons and a gateway, which all communicate through Nordic’s advanced concurrent Bluetooth LE and Thread short range wireless connectivity solutions.
In operation, the nRF52832 SoC-powered wearable is fitted in a pouch to the horse’s existing halter or bridle, or in a custom headband. The SoC also powers beacons which provide pinpoint location in key areas of interest, such as individual stalls or food and water sources.
The Farm Jenny Field Receiver, one of the world’s first ‘Built on Thread’ certified devices, uses a Thread-powered wireless mesh network providing farm-wide wireless connectivity. Both the field receivers and the gateway employ Nordic’s nRF52840 advanced multiprotocol SoC, with a Dynamic Multiprotocol feature that uniquely supports concurrent Bluetooth LE/Thread connectivity.
The wearable can relay the sensor data directly to the gateway if the horse is in a barn; to the Cloud via the companion app on a smartphone or tablet if the horse is in transit, on a trail or at a show; and to any nearby solar powered field receiver if the horse is in a pasture. In turn, the field receiver relays the data to a central gateway that then forwards the data via LTE-M or NB-IoT cellular connectivity to the Cloud for review. In all cases, Bluetooth LE connectivity is used for the ‘first hop’ of data from the animal’s wearable sensor. “At any time, on or off the farm, an animal sensor with data to send can expect to find a device capable of relaying the information to Farm Jenny’s servers,” says Crouthamel.
The open standard Thread protocol is the 'backbone' of the on-farm network. “We wanted an IP-based solution which allowed us to deploy new devices and features to existing customers without needing to update fielded infrastructure every time,” says Crouthamel.
To this end, Nordic’s multiprotocol low power solutions have proved critical. “We selected the nRF52840 for the field receiver because it is one of the few devices that can handle Bluetooth LE and Thread concurrently with a single radio, meaning lower power consumption, lower cost and far fewer regulatory compliance headaches than a multi radio design,” explains Crouthamel.
Farm Jenny for Horses provides around-the-clock monitoring anywhere on the farm without the need for rechargeable batteries. The scalable solution uses an: “opportunistic communications system designed to maximize battery run time of the animal sensor,” he says. “For the wearable, the SoC’s generous memory and processing capability allows us to do more behaviour processing on the animal, so we save power by not transmitting as often when everything is okay.”
The company is full of praise for Nordic’s support and development tools including the nRF5 SDK. “Nordic’s Bluetooth LE SDKs are unmatched in the industry,” Crouthamel says. “And we know we’ll get help promptly when we get stuck. We also know that Nordic will always be at the forefront of low power wireless, providing us months ... of schedule advantage over our competitors.”