Matthew Vartabedian


Matt Vartabedian, a leading wireless and telecom industry analyst, offers insight on the industry and technology trends that impact investment, finance and capital markets. 

Matt Vartabedian

Putting the Live in Livestock

April 8, 2021

Today, there are a variety of IoT sensors for cows (and other livestock) that track movement, fertility, behavior, health, lactation and more. How meaty is that opportunity? Well, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2017 there were approximately 93.65 million cattle in the U.S. In 2017, 69.81 million head of cattle were sold for a total value of $77.2 billion. (These sales are generated by more than 711,000 individual operations.)

The USDA also reported that in 2015 almost 3.6 million cattle and calves were lost to nonpredator causes. Predators only caused 41,680 cattle losses. (These 2015 numbers appear to be the most recent.)

The leading nonpredator causes of cattle death included: respiratory problems (e.g., pneumonia, shipping fever), unknown causes, digestive problems (e.g., bloat, scours, parasites, enterotoxemia, acidosis), old age, and weather (chilling, drowning, lightning). The USDA report also shows how nonpredator deaths vary by U.S. state and type of operation.

The value of the lost cattle varies based on the type of operation (beef, dairy, mixed, other). In 2015, the total value of cattle lost to nonpredator causes was $3.87 billion which means that on average each lost cow/calf was worth $1,108. Using that estimate, every 10,000 cattle preserved from preventable deaths means $11 million is saved overall.

Based on the above, it seems to me that IoT solutions that contribute to lowering the nonpredator death rate are a great starting point.

The sensor types I mentioned above use a variety of network technologies that require a network operator for installation (3G, LTE-M, NB-IoT, LoRa, SigFox) and some that do not (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and/or ZigBee). The former type typically covers a wide area but can be costly. The latter tend to be less expensive, but the wireless portion only covers a small area.

A private network using LTE/NR in the CBRS band is a good option. Not only is a network operator not required, but the band can cover a wide area and “backhaul” sensors that use a shorter-range band. There is also an opportunity for a systems integrator or farm equipment manufacturer to sell CBRS equipment to farms and/or operate the resulting network for the farm. In our recent Agriculture webinar, the vendors mentioned that a private network solution’s cost is comparable to a similarly sized Wi-Fi network (roughly speaking).

IoT devices also generate a massive amount of data, so some type of edge compute system would likely prove beneficial not only to the immediate solution but could also prove scalable to other applications.

Many vendors have fled the (hopefully temporary) wreckage of the commercial building cellular/wireless market and sought shelter in Education, Manufacturing, Transportation. Energy and/or the Agriculture sectors. These vendors should remember that while farmers may raise many different types of livestock, golden geese are not among them.