We’ve all been there. In the middle of the night, you wake up suddenly, drenched in sweat, your mind and heart racing. You’re on high alert, jolted into consciousness by anxiety and paranoia, racking your brain to remember the last time you checked in. “Was it 10pm or 11? Could it possibly have been earlier?” You can’t remember. However, all of these questions are pointless, because there’s only one real thing you need to know. The question your mind is really trying to answer is: “Is my cow about to give birth?”
Despite misconceptions of the often derogatorily labelled “ancient” profession, the farming industry is one desperate for new tech. With understaffing, employees consistently working off-farm, and farmers often having little extra labour to help out, this is one industry that could really use new tools and technology to lend a hand. However, many aspects of farming remain thoroughly undisrupted, including how farm animals are born. One company wants to change that – and it has the cow-copulation technology to do it.
Moocall connects overworked, stress-ridden farmers to their animals. After making a big splash at the National Ploughing Championships in Ireland in 2014, the company has three main products that do this: a calving sensor, a “heat” monitor, and an app to manage them both. The calving sensor is attached to a pregnant cow’s tail and monitors her contractions, alerting the farmer to when the cow is going into labour. The heat monitor tracks when cows are in estrus (ie are at peak time for becoming pregnant). In practice, this means attaching a tracker to a vasectomised bull in a field, full of female cows ready to breed, and seeing when the bull tries to have sex with the female cows. When he does, that means the female cow in question is “in estrus” or “in heat” – ready to be inseminated. Then the monitor sends an alert to the farmer so the farmer knows it’s time to bring in a breeding bull.
Finally, the Moocall app ties it all together; not only notifying farmers, but collecting data and calculating everything from general health to due dates to insemination times, all from information that’s been plugged in.
Moocall was founded in 2015, after its founder, Niall Austin, had his own personal issue with calving (the process of a cow giving birth). Five years earlier, when a cow of his went into labour, Austin couldn’t get to her when she started to give birth. Ultimately, the birth needed so much assistance that, without it, both the cow, and her newborn calf, tragically died.
“It’s a story that most farmers can relate to,” says Moocall manager at its Blackrock, County Dublin, office, Neil.
And this is what makes Moocall so vital – and so popular with thousands of products sold all over the world: bovine mortality rates are actually pretty shocking. According to Moocall, 110,000 calves and 50,000 cows die because of calving complications, and that’s after the laborious process of getting them to actually mate in the first place.
Neil explained that, before using this technology, farming methods for tracking and managing cow breeding were archaic. “In many cases, farmers would just be recording these things handwritten in paper notes,” he said.
And when it comes to the actual quality of life for farmers, Moocall technology can change things drastically. “Before the calving sensor, farmers would have to be getting up consistently in the middle of the night and travelling to look at their cows to make sure they are giving birth or not giving birth,” Neil explained. “With the sensor, that means this is monitoring the cows for them and they can actually go to sleep at night. Then they get their text or the get notified on the app then obviously they know they need to go check the cow. It keeps them from obsessively checking.”
When it comes to their heat sensor product, the benefit is less about a lifestyle change, and more about the enormity of time saved. “Rather than having to go out and look for physical signs of mating behaviour, farmers don’t have to do any of that – it’s all automated,” Neil said. “It was quite laborious, quite a labour intensive process before.”
“It’s really like having extra staff,” he said.
The app brings this information in together. Previously, farmers would have to manually keep track of when all of their cows (often hundreds) had been inseminated, when they were due to give birth, which cows had what complications, which cows had taken certain medications, and, because of all this information, which cows needed the most pressing attention at any given time. “It’s incredibly time-consuming,” Neil said.
The app relieves this tracking pressuring by creating “Smart Lists”, which categorise cows based on how important they are on a given day, and alerts the farmer when certain cows are in need of attention (whether for medicine, birthing, or insemination). “Let’s say, this week, you have ten cows that are due to give birth,” Neil told me, “or ten that are due to cycle… The app, through the lists, prioritises them and lets the farmer know which cows to focus on.”
The technology seems to actually be serving farmers as much as Moocall says they do. Just three years after launching in the UK and Ireland, Moocall products are now strapped to cows in more than forty different countries, with testimonials all over social media from happy farmers delivering calves and tracking heat with their products. It’s a technology solution for a very low-tech process that is saving both the lives of cows and calves, and the sanity of those who rely on them for their livelihoods.