Livestock tracking system

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,600.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Carole Soule
Learning Networks Foundation

Annual Reports

Information Products

BeagleBone Black Kit File (Mobile/Desktop Application)


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, feed/forage
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal summary:

    This project provides a low cost, easy to use method for tracking livestock anywhere and accessing the data about livestock movement from a PC web or hand held device. It will track specific animals in a single pasture including 1) normal movement, 2) non-movement which could indicate sickness, entrapment or death, 3) loss of animal via theft or escape 4) excessive movements indicating stress or predator presence. Using existing technology livestock can be tracked remotely without visiting the pasture. Pasture grazing patterns can be captured to help improve pasture management.


    Project results will be disseminated through an outreach event and through our adviser's agency, UNH Cooperative Extension. The project and results will be published in various farming related magazines including the Communicator published by the Farm Bureau and possibly Farming Magazine. Software and results will be uploaded to the Open Source repository and will also be available on the Miles Smith Farm website.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will remotely monitor the location of large livestock and potentially, equipment. (“Large” is typically greater than 75 lbs.) Each animal or piece of equipment has a radio tag placed on it, and there are several (at least 3) “base stations” placed around the monitoring area that use radio transmissions for tracking and record data associated with them.




    1. With 98% accuracy, count the number of livestock in two separate fields using a computer or smart phone application.


    2. With 98% accuracy determine the movements of livestock within two separate fields using a computer or smart phone application.


    3. Demonstrate an application for counting and tracking livestock that is less than $300/base station and less than $35/tag.


    Objective 1


    Method: Setup monitoring system in two fields. Track livestock visually and track them using a computer or smart phone application. We will put 10 animals in one field then remove 2 or more animals. The application will indicate the number of animals in each field, and the location of each animal within in 5 feet. We will track the 10 animals using the electronic system and will verify the accuracy of the electronic system by manually counting the test animals.


    We will setup the monitoring system in two different but adjacent fields at Early Sunrise Farm in Gilmanton. One field is very hilly 20 acre former hayfield with much brush. The other field is also 20 acres, relatively flat with a mixture of brush and hay fields. Both fields are about the same size but with different shapes and terrain. The fields are adjacent to each other so manually counting and monitoring animals can be done by the same testers. We will start with counting 10 animals in a herd of 25 cattle in each of the 20 acre fields. Of the 25 head of cattle, only 10 will be part of this testing exercise. At least three base stations will be used for this testing. Part of the testing will determine how many base stations are needed based on pasture size and terraine.


    Objective 2


    Method: We will setup monitoring system in two fields. We will count livestock manually at the same time as using a smart phone app to electronically count the same animals. We will put 10 animals in one field visually track their movements. The application will show where each animal moved to over a period of 12 hours. During the 12 daylight hours we will manually monitor the cattle every hour to compare cattle movement to the electronic data collected. We will provide the testers with a pasture diagram. Each hour the tester will notate the location of the animal. After the test period we will compare the manually collected data to the electronic data. This method will be repeated until the data manually collected matches the electronic data for at least 3 test cycles.


    Tracking will include the following:


    1. If animals are in a predefined area (a predefined field)


    2. If an animal has not moved within 4 hours


    3. If the monitored animals have moved through the same area multiple times.


    4. If the system works in inclement weather.


    5. If there are multiple obstacles such as trees in the way, will tracking work.






    The testers will review the data collected during testing. They will evaluate


    1) ease of reading data, 2) usefulness of data, 3) ease of using the computer application both on a laptop or tablet and on a smart phone application.


    Objective 3


    Method: The tracking system will average less than $40 per animal (including a $300 base station). For testing the cost is $70 per animal based on testing 10 animals. This cost will be reduced to $40/animal for herds of 60 and the price decreases the larger the herd. The system will be easy to install and maintain and will last for at least two years.




    This system will use the Xbee's internal serial number to identify each animal (the Xbee is a miniature radio modem on the ear tag – see attached diagrams). The system will use radio wave time-of-flight and statistical averaging with tri-laterization (see between the tag and base station(s) to determine each signal's origination.




    Issues this system addresses include:


    1) Measuring the time of flight for a radio signal, which is crucial because:



      • At least 12 (decimal) digits of precision are needed for measuring. Most clocks with more than 10 digits require military approval.


      • Most clocks (excluding only ones self-made) become erratic between 10 and 11 digits of precision. This worsens given temperature fluctuations.


      • To accurately capture a clock rate of greater than 10 digits, a computer with a CPU clock speed of greater than 3 GHz is needed.



    Our system resolves these problem by:



      • Using three or more "base stations" with high-precision clocks instead of having a high-precision clock on each tag.


      • Using GPS for a high-precision clock. (But this can be "tinkered with" by the military.)


      • Using statistics to compensate for externally induced "fluctuations" in the timing.





    This proposed system uses active RFID, incorporating IEEE 802.15.4 wireless modems into the ear tags. Depending on the orientation of the animal, the tags can be read from 100–300 ft. away. The ability to quickly and effectively read the cattle's tags from this distance enables a couple of things. Farmers can do faster, easier, and more frequent head counts of the herd by looking at a website or smart phone to get an accurate head count. If an animal is missing, the rancher can take immediate steps: fix a fence, locate a cow that's wandered off or be alert for rustlers.




    Because wireless modems are employed, two-way data communications with the animal is possible, but this project does not address those possibilities; the objective of this project is to simply get the basic system operational and track animal location.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.