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Designing and evaluating a smart cow monitoring

system from a techno-economic perspective

Frederic Vannieuwenborg, Sofie Verbrugge, Didier Colle
Internet technology and Data science Lab (IDLab) - Department of Information Technology
imec - Ghent University
Technologiepark-Zwijnaarde 15, 9052 Gent, Belgium

Abstract—Currently, precision dairy-monitoring technologies which are labor intensive, time consuming and require
(PDMT) are gaining interest. These systems allow to monitor cow continuous presence of skilled personnel, PDMTs are also
health, the time for insemination, and the birthing process. Doing expected to reduce labor costs [2]. Several studies indicate the
so, they have the potential to reduce labor and management costs added value of PDMT [3-4] such as an improvement in the
whilst increasing milk yield. Continuous innovations in the field cow’s reproductive efficiency, neonatal viability and their
of Internet of Things (IoT) have opened many new opportunities value in detecting the insemination moment. However, these
for monitoring animals and have been speeding up the cases often focus on only one aspect of dairy management such
development of PDMT systems. When designing an IoT-system, as better detection of the insemination moment and monitoring
often various technological alternatives are available (e.g.
cow health.
communication technologies, types of sensors). Although this
choice set can be narrowed down by mapping the functional and Designing an IoT-based PDMT system requires multiple trade-
technical requirements on the technical specifications of the offs between the functional requirements and the technological
technologies, chances are that even after this step multiple specifications of different IoT aspects. The wide choice set of
alternatives are still feasible. In this work, we describe an IoT- available protocols, sensors, processing and communication
system design methodology that also takes into account strategic technologies often shift the focus of the design process to a
and economic considerations. As a result, the choice set of pure technical perspective. However including also strategic
feasible technologies can be limited to feasible alternatives that and economic considerations in the design process of an IoT-
are also the most economic and strategic choices. In addition we
system have an important impact on the outcome and help
describe how the total added value of such a PDMT can be
quantified from the perspective of a dairy farmer. Applying this
further narrowing down the technological choice set.
quantification methodology on the described PDMT system Therefor the goal of this paper is to present a methodology to
indicates an annual reduction of 250 EUR per cow for dairy design a smart PDMT system based on functional, technical
management costs. and economic requirements, as well as to evaluate the
economic impact of such a system from a farmer’s perspective.
Keywords— techno-economic evaluation, smart cow monitoring
technology, impact quantification, IoT in agriculture
I. INTRODUCTION AND PROBLEM STATEMENT The Monicow system is a PDMT developed within the
Monicow project [5], with the aim to improve the various
Improvements in nutrition, management processes and
aspects of dairy management such as detecting signs of
animal welfare in general could lead to increased performance
diseases at an early stage, cow identification, predicting the
of dairy cows. However various factors such as diseases, low
calving moment and knowing when to inseminate the cows.
detection rates of insemination moments, and reproductive
health problems still have a negative impact on overall In order to design and evaluate this IoT-based PDMT system, a
economic performance of the dairy industry. These problems structured approach is required.
reflect in reduced milk production, early removal of potentially
useful cows and long calving intervals resulting in fewer calves The first step of the methodology focusses on the design funnel
[1]. process starting from use case definition and ending in a high-
level technical layout of system whilst including functional,
Driven by the innovations in the field of Internet of Things strategic and economic considerations. Four use cases have
(IoT), such as new low power communication networks and the been identified and describe different aspects the PDMT
further miniaturization of sensors, precision dairy-monitoring system should be able to deliver or execute:
technologies (PDMT) to overcome the mentioned problems are
gaining interest. Sensors which continuously and automatically • Early detection of signs of disease
monitor animal behavior and other parameters can provide • Detecting the moment to inseminate
information about nutrition, reproduction, health, and overall • Predicting the calving moment
well-being of dairy cows. Because traditional monitoring
methods often translate into subjective visual inspections,
• In-& outdoor localization and identification of dairy will not be able to exactly pinpoint what disease the cow is
cows suffering from.
From these use case, user, functional and technical Design Requirements for UC1
requirements are derived and discussed with various experts • Activity monitoring must include following metrics:
within the consortium. These strategic and economic Travelled distance per day, social behavior, lying time per
considerations are taken into account to propose a first iteration day, eating and drinking time. All these metrics can be
of the technological layout. This technological layout will in a derived from mapping the absolute position of the cow
later phase be used as source for the cost model. onto a floorplan and combing that data with other sensor
data such as accelerometers and barometers. This position
Next, for each use case a quantitative model has been set up to measurement should be updated every 30s and have an
determine the expected added value of the PDMT system from accuracy of 50cm.
the perspective of dairy farmer. These benefits will be
quantified by comparing the costs of all use cases in current • Temperature monitoring is required to detect fever.
practices, without the use of PDMT (AS IS situation) with the Temperature will be monitored at the ear and at the neck.
expected costs of all use cases when a PDTM is installed (TO Ear temperature should be corrected for ambient
BE situation). The total difference in costs between the AS IS temperature changes. A measurement frequency of 30
and TO BE situations are defined as impact or benefits of min. will suffice. But at least once every three hours the
PDMT. data should be updated in the central backend system. The
required accuracy of the sensor (measured vs. real
In a later phase, both the expected costs and benefits serve as temperature) must be 0.3 degrees Celsius, the required
input for the cost benefit analysis. But since the system is still precision (∆measured vs. ∆real temperature) must be
in development and testing phase, many costs cannot be within 0.1 degrees Celsius.
communicated yet. Therefor this paper focusses only on a • A central backend system will combine and analyze the
methodology to design an IoT-based PDMT from a techno- data, resulting from the various sources, in order to detect
economic perspective and determine its total added value for a anomalies and irregularities in the daily activity and
dairy farmer. health patterns of the animals.
III. REQUIREMENT ANALYSIS • The dairy farmer will be noticed of these anomalies via a
A. Functional requirements web based dashboard.
• The monitoring units of the animals send their data at
Within this work, focus is on three different factors which default intervals to a backend system. The default update
affect the overall economic performance of the dairy cows. rate can be dynamically adjusted by the backend itself in
These are: 1) Early detection of signs of disease, 2) Detection case of anomalies or expected events. Therefor
of heat in order to know when to inseminate, and 3) Predicting communication should be bidirectional and should cover
the calving moment, since presence of a dairy farmer during not only the barn, but also surrounding meadows.
labor reduces the risk of complications. A fourth use case is
about improving the time-intensive process of locating
2) Use case 2: Detecting the moment for insemination
animals in the barn or in the meadow.
a.k.a.heat detection
Heat detection is key to good reproductive performance
1) Use case 1 (UC1): Early detection of signs of disease since it directly impacts the total amount of calves born
Various common dairy diseases such as mastitis, lameness,
annually and the total milk yield. Detecting these events is a
ketosis and metritis are large contributors to economic losses
challenging and time intensive task. It requires detailed
due to both their prevalence and their direct impact on milk
observation of the physical behavior of the animals (e.g.
production and removal or culling rate. Other costs resulting
standing behavior, mounting, and sniffing other cows). In
from these diseases are: discarded milk due to drug residues,
addition, many of these events can easily be missed because
veterinarian and medication costs, and additional labor. In
they occur during night and can only be witnessed during a
addition, these diseases impact the fertility rate of the animals
limited time window of 6 to 36 hours [7]. Currently, several
which could lead to less calves and therefore longer calving
techniques and tools are widely used for more precise heat
detection (e.g. keeping cow journals, using tail paint markers),
but only have an average success rate of 50% [8]. Therefore, a
Monitoring of physiological or behavioral parameters such as
PDMT system that is able to improve the heat detection rate
temperature, activity level derived from acceleration data, and
while reducing the labor requirements will be beneficial for
animal position allow automatic analyses and interpretation of
the overall economic performance of the dairy farm.
these data. Doing so a PDMT can be able to detect
abnormalities on an individual cow level [6]. Examples of Design Requirements for UC2
disease indicators are changes in behavior, increased • To detect heat, the behavior of the animal and its position
temperature, lower activity level, lower drinking frequency relative to group is important. A measuring frequency of
and changes in rumination behavior. Since no biochemical 30s and a data upload frequency of 30min is sufficient.
validation will be included in the PDMT system, the system
• Movement and mounting activity will be monitored via an technologies, different localization systems and charging
accelerometer. technologies. Based on these technical requirements various
• The measured data will be correlated with data from a approaches to design an IoT-Based PDMT system are feasible.
cow calendar. This calendar or journal is already in place
in all dairy farms, but it needs to be integrated in the One piece of the system, the smart ear tag which will measure
PDMT system. ear temperature and communicate the measurements to a smart
• The PDMT system will alert the farmer in case of a heat collar which each dairy cow will wear, poses additional
event is detected. constraints. These constraints and requirements include
maximum weight of the ear tag, material strength, fungus
3) Use case 3: Predicting the calving moment resistance, maximum dimensions and animal friendly design.
Complications during labor increase the risk for stillbirth, B. Strategic design considerations
mortality and culling, and increases overall risk for diseases.
Next to requirements resulting from the use cases and the
Depending on the severity of the complication, research
design constraints for the ear tag also some strategical choices
indicates a cost of 150 - 600 euro per case [9]. With a
have to be considered in the design process. These strategic
prevalence of 25 to 30%, this results in a significant additional
considerations will affect some of the technological design
pressure on overall economic performance of dairy farms.
aspects. The most important strategic aspects that have been
Frequent monitoring and assistance before, during and after
taken into account are:
labor reduces the chance on complications [3]. Therefore, the
exact moment of calving has to be known. Previous research • Network provider independency: because network
projects [10], have indicated that calving moments could be availability is not always certain (e.g. 3G-4G and
detected by on-cow sensor systems that combine activity, LPWANs such as Lora, Sigfox, NB-IoT) in terms of
behavior, temperature, and tail position. coverage in both a national and international setting,
preference is given to a private network deployment that
Design Requirements for UC3 covers at least a couple of km around the farm.
• When the expected calving time approaches, the Complying with this constraint would exclude 3G/4G
temperature will be monitored at a higher frequency than technologies as well as public LPWAN providers such as
is required for UC1. Instead of measuring every 30min, Lora and Sigfox.
now every 10min the temperature will be monitored. • If possible, the system should be backwards compatible
• In order to know when the newborn calf is expected, data with existing installations in a dairy farm. This means that
from the cow journal or calendar must be integrated. the collar and ear tag should contain or be made
• Prior to parturition, the cow will be very restless and will modularly to include the low frequency RF tags that are
seek a more isolated space. This will be monitored via the currently widespread.
localization technology. • If possible the design of the ear tag meets the
• The dairy farmer will be noticed by the system as soon as requirements the European Commission will impose and
the calving is detectable. is ISO 11784/85 compliant. Doing so, only one ear tag per
animal is required instead of the combination of the
4) Use case 4: In-& outdoor localization and legally required ear tag and a separate PDMT ear tag.
identification of dairy cows • Database formats and data exchange format should
An additional application of the system is localization and comply with industry standards to facilitate data exchange
identification of animals. Since this is currently a time with regulators, control agencies, and other interested
intensive task, certainly in larger herds, PDMTs have the parties such as inseminators and dairy manufacturers.
potential to decrease the time required to locate a specific • This IoT-based PDMT system will not monitor
animal. Via a mobile app the farmer can get near real time info biochemical parameters. On top of that, no parts of the
of the position of an animal. Via the same app, he can scan the system should be swallowed or implanted in the animals.
cow wirelessly in order to get all the information of the animal
C. Economic design considerations
and the cow calendar. Except for the mobile application, no
additional system components are required because this use In addition to strategic design considerations also
case is enabled by technology required for the first use case. economic aspects have a direct influence on the design of the
system. Focusing on the initial investment (form a farmer’s
Design Requirements for UC4 perspective) alone is too shortsighted. Operational
• A dairy farmer must be able to scan and identify an expenditures (OpEx) over the expected life time of the system
animal via the mobile application. This will allow him to should be taken into account when designing the PDMT.
get all relevant information of the animal and see the data These OpEx include: the long term effects of e.g. subscription
history. fees to public network providers, the cost of maintenance and
installation, the impact on current business processes, etc.
All these high level functional requirements have been Therefor following economic considerations have been taken
translated into technical requirements such as required update into account and have further reduced the available
frequency, sensor accuracy, possible communications technological choice set:
• Battery lifetime of the ear tag must be at least 7 years. In and setup purposes (e.g. pairing with an ear tag). Both NFC
this way there is no need to replace the ear tag during the and Bluetooth have been chosen because of the widespread
lifetime of the dairy cow. This stresses the need for availability via smartphones.
careful usage of the available energy budget. Temperature, barometer and acceleration sensors as well as an
• No battery replacements are required for the collar Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) based location tag are integrated in
throughout the complete lifetime of it. the collar. In order to achieve a desired lifetime of eight years,
• Ear tag and collar setup and maintenance activities should charging circuitry and power management systems to recharge
be minimized or avoided. the super capacitators are in place as well. The wireless
charging system is based on magnetic induction and will also
IV. TECHNICAL SETUP OF THE PRECISION DAIRY-MONITORING be used to transfer data from the collar to the backend. Doing
SYSTEM so, no manual operations are required to charge the batteries.
Based on the high level requirements that have been B. Smart ear tag
derived from the use cases and the strategic and economic
Ear temperature is measured periodically and
considerations an initial design for the complete PDMT communicated via MI to the collar. At least two temperature
system has been proposed (Fig. 1). sensors will be included in order to correct the measured ear
temperature to the ambient temperature. Additionally NFC is
Sensor data will be collected via non-intrusive on cow sensor integrated for setup, pairing and scanning processes. Ear tags
systems integrated in a smart collar and smart ear tag. This have a battery lifetime of seven years. In addition the goal is to
will be combined with on-farm installed charging points, include the low frequency RFID tag in the ear tag as well since
positioning anchors and a network base station. A central these tags will be required by EU-regulation in the upcoming
cloud based backend system will interpret and analyze the raw years.
data via dedicated algorithms. Data not only consist of sensory
data such as location, movement, behavior and ear C. Localization system
temperature, but also include data derived from the cow Since GPS-based localization systems are energy hungry,
journals. When anomalies or alarming/interesting trends (e.g. do not perform well indoor and have an accuracy which does
calving moment, heat or early signs of diseases) are detected not meet the requirements, an Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) based
by these algorithms, the back-end system will alert the dairy system will be used. Depending on the barn layout and
farmer in time. An online management platform and construction materials, a number of localization anchors need
dashboard will also present the data and deduced information. to be installed which will communicate with the UWB tag
Ultimately the goal is to provide decision support towards the integrated in the collar. This technology allows
farmer. The complete system consists of following D. Charging points
Inductive charging points installed on drinkers, milking
A. Smart collar robots or concentrate feeding systems eliminate the need for
Communication between the collars and the base station is battery replacement of the collars [12]. Via magnetic induction
based on the LoraWAN protocol and technology [11]. This the super capacitators in the collar will frequently be
choice results from several requirements: compared to recharged. This MI coupling will also be used to communicate
2G/3G/4G cellular technologies, the LPWAN technology has a sensor data to the backend.
much lower energy consumption for a similar range, and
therefore is well suited for this application. Also in contrast E. Base station
with 2G/3G/4G cellular based systems LoraWan operates in a A LoraWAN base station will be installed at the farm. This
license free part of the radio-spectrum, hereby reducing the enables communication with the LoraWAN modules in the
subscription fees for tele-communication. Although there is a collars. The base station will also act as modem and send the
public LoraWan network available, a private LoraWan network LoraWan messages to the cloud server.
will be set up. This eliminates the need to buy network
subscriptions from LoraWan network providers, which F. Management platform and mobile application
simplifies internationalization of this PDMT system. Secondly Via a management platform farmers are able to monitor the
it gives more control to perform for instance over-the-air data of their cows and to keep cow journals. If specific
(OTA) firmware updates of the collars. Although Sigfox has parameter thresholds are exceeded, the platform will alert the
similar characteristics as LoraWan, it is does not allow private farmer. Also animals can be located exactly within the farm
network deployment, and currently is not capable of area via the platform. This comes in handy whenever a farmer
performing OTA updates due to technical limitations. must look for a specific animal. The mobile application
Other communication technologies and protocols encapsulated allows to scan the ear tags in order to identify a specific
in the smart collar are: A) Near Field Magnetic Induction animal. Data history and the cow journal can be accessed via
(NFMI) to communicate with the smart ear tag, B) Bluetooth the app. The app can also be used to locate animals.
Low Energy (BLE) to communicate with other devices (e.g.
smartphones), and C) the 13.56 MHz based near field
communication (NFC) (ISO 14443) for system initialization
G. Cloud server Once current process costs are quantified, the impact of PDMT
A cloud server will serve as main data repository and will and how they will affect the use cases can be modelled. Since
analyze all data such as the temperature, activity behavior, no actual system performance data (such as sensitivity and
location and will incorporate data from the cow journals. The specificity) is available yet, the impact of the PDMT is derived
from literature and the complete simulation model has been
server allows management of the system components and
validated via semi structured interviews with famers, field-
makes data and data adjustments accessible via a variety of experts, research teams and user groups involved in the
interfaces such as the management platform, the mobile Monicow ICON-project [5].
application, and touchscreens.
Although the parametric model allows farm-specific use, the
presented results are valid for an average Flemish dairy farm
with 77 dairy cows which each have an annual milk yield of
8838 kg/dairy cow [18].

Fig. 1. Schematic representation of the Monicow PDMT-system

Per use case the costs have been modelled (AS IS costs)
V. QUANTIFICATION OF THE ADDED VALUE OF PDMT FOR A together with expected costs resulting from the PDMT
DAIRY FARMER integration.
As described in the introduction, IoT-based precision dairy-
monitoring systems will affect current main sources of SPECIFIC USE CASE
economic losses. This impact of PDMT will be quantified by Use case Cost parameters
comparing the costs of all use cases in current practices,
• milk production losses
without the use of PDMT (AS IS situation) with the expected UC 1: Detecting early signs
• discarded milk
costs of all use cases when a PDTM is installed (TO BE of diseases: 1) Mastitis, 2)
• cost veterinarian
situation). The total difference in costs between the AS IS and Lameness, 3) Ketosis, 4)
Metritis • cost medication
TO BE situations are then defined as impact or benefits of • culled & destructed animals
PDMT from the perspective of a dairy farmer. • labor costs
• prolonged calving interval
For each use case a separate calculation model is developed in
• value of milk yield
Excel® to quantify costs for a dairy farmer. The models and • cost of inseminations
inputs for calculating the total costs of diseases are based on UC 2: Heat detection • culled animals
the work of [13-16]. To calculate the costs of suboptimal heat • total cost or value of newborn calves
detection, the models presented in [8] and [17] are applied. • labor cost
UC 3: Predicting calving • labor cost
The overall evaluation methodology quantifies the milk yield, moment • costs of dystocia
the average amount of inseminations, number of calves and UC 4: Animal localization
culled animals with respect to the heat detection rate. Table 1 and adjusting cow • labor cost
management data
presents an overview of all costs taken into account per use
case. The impact of the PDMT is assumed since the system is still in
development phase and no final results are there yet.
Impact of a PDMT is represented as prevalence decrease due to B. UC 2: increased heat detection rate and insemination
faster detection, decrease in labor time to locate animals, succes rate
decrease in culling or removal rate and increase in heat Heat detection directly affects economic performance of the
detection rate. Also the additional costs of false alerts have dairy farm. Not being able to detect heat properly results in
been taken into account.
less calves per year and less cost-efficient milk production due
to the decreasing lactation output of dairy cows after calving.
A. UC 1: early detection of signs of diseases
It is expected that the PDMT system will decrease the amount
Since the PDMT doesn’t include biochemical analyses, of labor time whilst increasing the heat detection rate up to
specific distinction between different diseases will be difficult, 80% due to PDMT-integration. This is in line with literature
expect for lameness which is a locomotive disorder. On the [21], maybe even somewhat conservative.
other hand fever will be monitored. This is an indicator of
many diseases thus therefor we have quantified the expected
A stochastic simulation model was used [17], based on the
impact of a PDMT on the most prevalent diseases for dairy
work of [8], to calculate the impact of better heat detection on
cows. These diseases are: 1) mastitis, 2) lameness, 3) ketosis
and 4) metritis. the 1) annual milk yield, 2) the amount and revenue of new
born calves, 3) the total insemination cost, 4) the cost of culled
For each disease, the costs have been modelled separately but or removed animals due to low fertility, and 5) the cost of
they all rely on the same cost parameters: 1) cost of milk labor of the farmer for visual inspection and inseminations.
production loss, 2) costs for veterinarian visits, medication
therapy and its resulting milk withdrawal period, 3) costs for In total, an annual saving of 125 EUR per cow can be noted
culling and destruction animals, 4) labor costs of the farmer or for the scenario in which the farmer checks the cows if the
hoof trimmers, and 5) costs due prolonged calving intervals. system alerts him to inseminate those animals. In the case of
blind insemination or in other words, inseminating for every
It is not the goal of this paper to explain in detail how all costs alert including false positives would lead to an annual saving
have been calculated, therefor we refer to [19]. The overall
of 138 EUR per cow. Although blind inseminations lead to
expected impact per cost parameter per disease is presented in
Fig. 2. additional costs for labor and insemination samples, reduction
in time for visual inspection outweighs.
€180 C. UC 3: more precise prediction of the calving moment
Monitoring of the calving moment, observation and eventual
€140 Costs of discarded milk
assistance during the calving process could reduce the
€100 prevalence and consequences of a difficult birth. But in order
Costs of treatment to observe, a farmer must have an idea on the calving moment.
Costs of labour The PDMT system is expected to alert the farmer in case of a
€20 calving moment. This will decrease the number of
€- Milk production losses unnecessary checkups and thereby saving labor. In addition







the chance on complications will decrease as well, which will

Costs of culling and reduce the total costs for veterinary assistance and culling
whilst increasing milk output and reproduction rate.
Mastitis Lameness Ketosis Metritis Based on the input provided by literature and validated by
Fig. 2. Overall annual costs per disease [ASIS vs. TOBE] per cost category
consortium members, an annual saving of 15 EUR/cow could
be realized. Although a significant decreases in cost for check-
Major cost components are the decreased milk output and the ups can be noted, the total impact of PDMT on dystocia
costs for culling or removal. The costs per case are 394 EUR remains low.
for mastitis, 167 EUR for lameness, 363 EUR for ketosis and
107 EUR for metritis. Except for the cost per case of ketosis D. Use case 4: Animal localization and identification
these are all in line with the estimations of [20]. However The model for the final use case calculates the potential
these results indicate higher average costs for culling and profit for a farmer in the case he can use the PDMT system to
destruction, probably due to higher culling rates used in this locate animals in the farm environment. In addition it allows
research. animal identification and adjusting the cow and herd data via
Due to PDMT-integration a decrease in overall disease an app instead of doing the adjustments on a fixed PC.
prevalence of 15% is assumed. On top of that, also culling and
destruction rates are likely to decrease due to less severity of The total annual labor cost for localization and identification is
the diseases. As a result, the total annual cost for common currently estimated at 42 EUR per cow (18 EUR/cow for
dairy diseases is expected to decrease to 339.49 EUR/cow on adjusting herd data, and 24 EUR/cow for animal localization).
average. This results indicates a potential decrease of 61.74 After PDMT-integration this total annual cost decreases to 6
EUR in the annual costs due to disease management per cow. EUR/cow per year, a gain of 36 EUR/cow.
E. The total expected impact of PDMT are increased milk output, reduced amount of discarded milk,
When all calculated benefits of the four different use cases reduced cost for veterinarian assistance, reduced costs for
are combined, an expected impact of PDMT integration of 252 animal replacement and labor time reduction.
EUR/cow and 238 EUR/cow for respectively the ‘TOBEBLIND’
and the ‘TOBECHECK’ scenario (Fig. 3).
It would be worthwhile to extend the model in the future with
For an average Flemish farm with 77 dairy cows, the total other common dairy diseases such as rotation of the lumbar or
annual added value of a PDMT system is expected to be other use cases for PDMT such as customized feed distribution
around 18 - 19.5 kEUR/year. or monitoring the animal welfare. Next it would be very
interesting to see what other livestock (e.g. meat cows, mules,
Although a cost benefit and sensitivity analysis will be goats) could benefit from this precision monitoring system.
performed in a later phase, it is clear that an IoT-based PDMT
system could be beneficial for the economic performance of ACKNOWLEDGMENT
dairy farms. This work was supported by the imec-MoniCow project,
co-funded by imec, a research institute founded by the Flemish
UC2 UC1 UC4 UC3 Government in 2004.

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