Closer look at cattle and technology

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“THESE days, dairy cows cost a fortune. You cannot imagine some being stolen or disappearing out of negligence by workers looking after them,” said a dairy farmer who is always concerned about the welfare of his dairy cattle kumusha while he is at work in the city.
Even though he visits his farm every weekend, he still keeps worrying that something might happen to the cattle while he is at work.
Today, this is the concern of every cattle farmer.
Even if he is living on his farm, it may not always be possible to keep track of the animals ‘24/7’ (as the saying goes today).
His concerns are shared by millions of livestock farmers whose trade contributes immensely to Zimbabwe’s GDP.
In Zimbabwe and elsewhere, cattle farmers have, for a long time, relied on plastic ear tags with unique identification numbers, which are often clipped onto a cow’s ear to address such challenges.
These tags come in handy during disputes where proof of ownership is required to determine who the real owner is. This manual system, however, is now being phased out due to some of its shortcomings.
For instance, ear tags can easily be plucked off a cow’s ear, making it hard for owners to identify their dairy cattle.
In Kenya, the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB) is now promoting the use of a digital technology known as the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) bolus which facilitates electronic animal registration.
The bolus, weighing about 70g is white and cylindrically shaped.
This facilitates its smooth insertion into a cow’s rumen through the use of a special applicator.
Inside the bolus, there is a transponder with a computer microchip containing the unique identification code of a particular cow.
It sits passively in the cow’s stomach without harming it.
Through the use of a bolus reader, farmers are able to activate or ‘wake up’ the transponder which then sends information pertaining the identification details of the cow.
Both the reader and transponder have antenna for sending and receiving electronic signals.
The results, displayed on the bolus reader’s screen, contain information about the type of cow, year of birth, name, owner’s identity and corresponding co-operative society.
It can also provide information about the cow’s location which is determined through the use of radio frequencies or signals.
Through the use of special software, farmers can then map the frequencies against surrounding towns which will allow them to promptly determine the location of their animals at the touch of a button.
Unlike the ear take, the electronic device cannot be removed unless the cow is dead.
It thus ensures a lifetime security to the animal and peace of mind for the farmer.
According to the managing director of KDB, the new digital technology targets progressive small, medium and large scale dairy farmers seeking to enjoy the benefits of electronic animal registration such as enhanced security.
The RFID bolus, is a tamper-proof identification device for livestock, which has made it easy for farmers in Kenya to easily access commercial loans using their cows as security.
“The banks will be able to prove that the loan applicant is indeed the owner of the cow used as security,” explained a dairy expert who supplies the technology in Kenya and has partnered with the milk-producing company to help them to promote its acceptance.
Financial institutions are also using the new technology to keep track of all animals used as security for bank loans, since farmers who have embraced the technology can also easily access animal insurance services.
According to an agronomist at an insurance company, the new IT registration technology ‘provides a reliable and sure way of identifying insured animals’, therefore, when the insurance company needs to compensate farmers for theft or loss of an animal, it can be sure that the affected animal is without a doubt the one that was insured.
This, the agronomist said, also guards against fraudulent claims, common with the manual registration system, where farmers remove the ear tag of an insured animal and clip it on the ear of a dead uninsured cow then demand compensation.
Given that the device is often swallowed by the animal during its insertion, cattle farmers cannot remove it to insert it on a dead animal.
According to the insurance company: “We just go to the ground with our electronic reader to determine the identity of the dead animal.”
In case of theft, insurance companies can also ascertain that the animal is not hidden in a farmer’s homestead by using the electronic reader to determine the location of the animal.
A simple electronic registration kit consists of a single electronic device and reader.
A farmer with many cattle can purchase additional devices for each one of them and use a single reader to track all of them.
The cost is, however, higher for long range electronic readers that have the ability of tracking livestock over long distances.
These long-range electronic devices are already being used by the Kenya Wildlife Service to digitally track wild animals in game parks.
The technology alerts them if any veer off or go missing due to poaching or other causes.
It is hoped that once fully rolled out, the dairy and beef co-operatives in that country will also reap the benefits of this new digital technology as it will allow cattle farmers to track their animals in future by guarding against cattle rustling and ensuring that they graze within an acceptable geographical area where they are safe.
Implementing new digital farming practices and agro-development policies grounded in new technologies in Zimbabwe will not only secure the national herd, but will transform the Zimbabwean livestock sector dramatically.
Zimbabwean rural small-holder cattle breeders need to be equipped with modern day digital equipment, technological knowledge and data through an extensive livestock extension services unit implemented nationwide.
Such support systems need to be brought to date with current global technology.
Judging from reports from many parts of Africa at an AGRITECH Expo held recently in Tel Aviv, Israel (May 6 – 11) 2018, our current lack of mechanisation in Zimbabwe, among rural small-holder farmers under the Command Livestock programme compromises optimum livestock productivity.
Hence, we should do everything possible to activate agro-rural technology, digitisation and mechanisation, especially in the livestock sector.
Transforming the livestock sector in Zimbabwe and its auxiliary agro-business and agro-security systems to the digital technological age will boost the Command Livestock Programme immensely.
However, with all things considered, the negative implications and physiological side-effects of these electronic devises on the reproductive system of the cattle need to be explored and taken into account.
Have they?
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher. For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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