Richard Hobson set out to build an inexpensive tag to monitor the key performance indicators of farm animals, for the one billion people, who rely on livestock, for their livelihood around the world.
In 2015, Hobson travelled from Dublin to Eagle Labs in Cambridge to access funds and developed an initial prototype. Here he tells the story behind his ‘Fitbit for farm animals’ vision and the groundwork in opening up new global markets for tagging and tracking, from cashmere goats in China to wild stock conservation of rhino and buffalo in South Africa.
How are you different for the other monitors on the market?
We offer a smart device that helps you to monitor farm profitability, and because of its intelligent design, we don’t need to charge the earth for it. It’s also the world’s first tag that can be used on any animal, making it both flexible and cost-effective. Herdsy’s primary target market is the (non-dairy) dry stock farm which is most in need of affordable digitisation, as current ag-tech is proving too expensive and too complicated for the needs of these farmers.
Herdsy is a unique technology as it only requires a small number of tags (from two to four tags, depending on herd size) to extrapolate the health of an entire herd, radically cutting down the cost of ag-tech, which means that it’s 95% as good as tagging every animal but 98% cheaper. The first Herdsy collar combines a mix of smart sensors featuring GPS, a 3D-accelerometer, temperature sensors, barometric pressure, heart and pulse monitors and body mass measures.
We aim to help the farmer optimise profitability by using our technology to monitor his herd or flock continuously and provide alerts and updates on lameness, weight gain, location mapping and even informing the farmer if a dog is chasing his sheep.
“We have been awarded a €2 million deal, subject to validation of our technology, to track and monitor one million cashmere goats near Ordus, a city located in Inner Mongolia.”
Winning in China
In November 2017, we won an award in the Dragonfly Cup which is a competition for the most innovative new product for agriculture in China. We became the highest ranking western enterprise, finishing as a top ten firm out of 500 firms who entered the award contest. From this competition we have been awarded a €2 million deal, subject to validation of our technology, to track and monitor one million cashmere goats near Ordus, a city located in Inner Mongolia.
Significantly we are the only tracking firm to be invited by the Chinese Government to trade within Inner Mongolia. Cashmere goats produce wool and meat, and the government have identified it as an industry they wish to scale within this region.
“Rhinos can be valued anywhere from £200,000 to £1m and buffalo can be worth millions of pounds.”
Saving the great animals
We have also signed a deal with a South African conservation body to track rhino and buffalo, in a contract worth £200,000 per annum.
Rhinos can be valued anywhere from £200,000 to £1m and buffalo can be worth millions of pounds, with the most expensive buffalo recently sold for £8.5million.
Our primary business in South Africa would be within conservation tracking of wild stock.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), rhino poaching in South Africa increased from 13 to 1,004 animals between 2007 and 2013. Because of these pressures on wildlife, we are targeting the conservation market as an area of growth, combined with the fact that currently there is no inexpensive animal tracking software available on the market.
“The largest animal-tracking company in the world tracks 25,000 animals, and within the next three years, we expect to overtake that by monitoring one million animals in China.”
One million animals
Recently we took part in a regional NDCR accelerator programme with Arclabs in Waterford. It provides office space, investment, mentoring and are helping us hone our message and value proposition. At this stage, we only need to get through our first couple of trials to unlock our contracts in both China and South Africa.
The largest animal-tracking company in the world tracks 25,000 animals, and within the next three years, we expect to overtake that by monitoring one million animals in China. Farmers in the UK under tax law there are allowed to write off £500 per year for ag-tech purchases and Ireland Inc. should be doing something like that here.
I believe that Ireland could become a world leader in ag-tech – if the powers that be gave more resources to the sector, which I think they are beginning to do, to help future proof and minimise risk across our vital agri-food and farming sectors.
Check out Herdsy.
Interview by Brendan Byrne