Going Pro

No More Bull

Bringing Tech to Cattle Farming

Darren Wolchyn

Issue 5, November 2017

Darren and his team at Smart Paddock are revolutionising cattle health with their innovative Bluebell technology. With increasing consumer interest in animal welfare and farming responsibility, intelligent monitoring and action can help reduce medical interventions, while also enhancing early interventions that may be required.

Healthy cows make for better quality meat and dairy, and who doesn’t want that? With intelligent monitoring of cattle, their health markers, monitoring of temperatures and other important factors, cattle farmers can improve the quality of their stock with very little intervention. As a consumer of beef or dairy, you may prefer to know that your animal was raised in a certain area, lives completely free range (with the GPS data to prove it), or maybe just that the farmer took an active interest in its wellbeing. We caught up with Darren to find out more about this great product.

You’re doing a great thing here, trying to improve cattle farming with technology. What brought you to this industry? Are you farmer gone tech, or tech come farmer?

Actually I’m both! I’m an electrical engineer, born in Canada and raised on a farm in northern Alberta, in a really rural community called Crooked Creek. Since then I’ve worked on many different projects over the years but I never felt the career fulfillment I was looking for, and so decided to use my experience to break out on my own and help an industry that can, at times, be overlooked for development of innovative solutions.

Fantastic! It’s often when two different skills merge that opportunities are recognised! Can you briefly explain what the Bluebell tag does?

The Bluebell tag is a small multi-sensor tag that is designed to be attached to the ear of every animal in a herd. It will capture various biometric data, which is then transmitted on a regular basis over a long-range wireless network, back to a gateway installed on the farm.

That sounds great! You’re in advanced prototype stage. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced with hardware development so far?

A couple of issues stand out; making the device small and light enough, and powering the tag for long periods of time. A new challenge that I have never had before is field testing a device that is reliant on getting easy access to a cow, which of course has a mind of its own!

prototype tag
The prototype ear tag.

What are the biggest improvements you’re trying to make with Bluebell, which will make you stand out in the market?

There are similar, more basic tags on the market, as well as larger collar-based devices; but my focus is small, long battery life and a back-end system that does not just show farmers raw data, but interprets the data and gives the farmer actionable items when necessary.

Passive intelligence of the system would certainly be great for the farmer - they have enough to do without trawling through loads of data! What data will the tag be able to provide?

Geo-location, temperature, body movement and position; and we’re also researching various other sensors such as microphones and environmental sensors.

It’s certainly true that cows can get lost, which would potentially be a big cost to the farmers; that on its own is important! Can you share any of the technologies you’re incorporating, or is it all top secret?

Nope it’s not top secret. We’re using private/semi-private LoRa networks for the long-range wireless communication, Bluetooth® 5 for short range communication, and we’re looking at some more advanced sensors and power supply technologies that will be integrated into future versions.

Can you take us through who is behind Smart Paddock? Is it just yourself, or are there others in the team?

I am the sole founder of the company, but I have several on the technical team such as back-end system developers, mobile developers, and an external electronics design company to help with production. I have several advisors as well who have general business and agricultural industry backgrounds. I also employ my daughter who is currently at uni, to help with the design and marketing. She has a keen interest in wearable technology and plans to continue in the design industry with that focus, after graduation.

That’s a dynamic team! What is your plan for rollout of the Smart Paddock Bluebell?

The current plan is to have several farms in Victoria, testing the tags over the next couple months. This will validate the technology, and then I’ll ramp up production and start selling nationally.

Aggregating the data is a fantastic idea. With more people increasingly concerned about food quality and origin, could it potentially lead to a stamp of quality if cattle are raised within certain parameters? Or even culinary excellence? 

Absolutely! This is one of the key differentiators of our platform. We will be able to prove the quality of life of the animal, where exactly it spent most of its life and the ability to show the health biometric historic data for each individual animal. We can provide validation of a “free range” cow.

Now that’s a great fact. Free ranging of animals is important but it is indeed almost a “trust” system currently. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Smart Paddock?

I’m currently looking for any cattle farms that would be interested in trying the technology. They can contact me through my website www.smartpaddock.com

I would also encourage any technology start-ups to consider applying for Telstra’s muru-D accelerator program, which I’ve found to be invaluable in progressing my own company.

That’s great. We wish you luck with the trials and every success with launch of the Smart Paddock Bluebell.