Livestock tracking system

2015 Annual Report for FNE14-814

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

Livestock tracking system


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 tracks 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 are tracked remotely without visiting the pasture. Pasture grazing patterns are captured to help improve pasture management.

Objectives/Performance Targets

This project remotely monitors the location of large livestock and potentially, equipment. (“Large” is typically greater than 75 lbs.)

  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.


The following has been accomplished:

  1. All three base stations have been built and are under test. One ear tag has been built, but may need rebuilding after testing and before putting on an animal.

  2. Most of the software has been written, and testing has indicated other software may need to be written as some configuring and use requires some sophisticated knowledge that your average farmer won't have; for example: setting up a network server (DHCP, DNS, SSH, …), using encrypted data streams, ...

    Last year's problem has been ignored for now – we're trying to get all other software in place, and then we'll concentrate on getting the timing software working. There appears to be another way of approaching the problem (using real-time features of the Linux kernel instead of modifying a device driver).

  3. Initial testing has indicated that a fail-over technique between the base stations is needed for transferring collected data to the server for display. This is a significant undertaking (several weeks of development just to get something to test), so this task will be deferred to a later release. Current, we're just assuming each base station has internet access.

  4. Significant research has been done and found/not found:

  • Similar purposed products, described in a section of the same name.

  • BovControl is doing something similar, but they're using rough location (as returned by a GPS). Also, they're using mesh networking, which I don't think will work for finding where animals left the field. (Mesh networking is good for when all the animals stick together, but not for when they spread apart.) Their initial target audience seems to be the dairy farmers.


Similar Purposed Products

The following products which provide functions similar to this projects are listed below along with a description.

  1. Beagleboard:Radarcape”; Designed more for tracking aircraft than small transceivers, but indicates that the method used in this project is appropriate for our purposes.

  2. BovControl; A project similar to ours with a more focused audience. We worked with them at the Maker lab in Boston and exchanged ideas. They are producing a proprietary system.

  3. WPI Campus Safety System. A much more ambitious project regarding tracking and safety on a college campus. This project was a partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degress of Bachelor of Science by at least four students at WPI. The advising professor is Susan Jarvis.

  4. Move over GPS – Get Ready for Indoor Location” - an article by Cory Von Wallenstein in March 2015 of Business NH Magazine.

  5. Livestock Management System” - – a research paper describing a system similar to ours, but with an emphasis on collecting data from the animal.

  6. Containing Cattle with GPS Virtual Fencing” - - a similar project but in a conceptual stage.

  7. Efficient Mobile Asset Tracking and Localization in Zigbee Wireless Network” - – a paper in the Journal of Advances in Computer Networks Vol 3 No 1 March 2015. This describes how to do localization using the Xbee's RSSI data.

  8. Trilateralization using RSSI” - Comments from someone who appears to have experience with RSSI in Xbee's.


I have come across the following information in the pursuit of this project:

  1. BeagleBone Black System Reference Manual”. Revision C, March 21, 2014.

  2. Introduction to the BeagleBone Black Device Tree”. Justin Cooper; Adafruit Learning System.

  3. BeagleBone Black”.

  4. Setting up IO Python Library on BeagleBone Black”. Justin Cooper; Adafruit Learning Systems.

  5. Trilateration”.

  6. Multilateration”.

  7. Trilateration using 3 latitude and longitude points, and 3 distances”.

  8. Trilateration algorithm for n amount of points”.


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The following has been accomplished as planned:

  1. Working prototypes.

  2. Initial testing.

The following has not been accomplished as planned:

  1. In field testing with cattle.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Because the hardware/software did not perform as expected, the following will be done:

  1. Concentrate on the non-driver software (web interface and protocols for talking to the server)

  2. Periodically go back to the community to see if there is any progress on the multiplexed I/O issues.

The following software has been created and tested (and modified) to some degree:

  1. scantags – used during configuring to find all the tags (and base stations) within range

  2. pingtags – used during normal operation to send detected distances to the database server.

  3. gpscap – reads and records the data coming from the attached GPS receiver.

  4. settagid – configures tags for the system when they are first acquired.

  5. xbeeat – a utility program for diagnosing problems with the radios on the ear tags and base stations (Xbee radios).

  6. setapi – another part of the process of configuring tags for the system when they are first acquired.

  7. makedb – creates a local database for use by gpscap; this will probably be deprecated in favor of using a more powerful database on a server.

  8. – sends received distance information from the tags to the server.

  9. A number of utilities and other software was created to facilitate the base stations running unattended.


Bruce Dawson
Farm Administrator
56 Whitehouse Rd
Loudon, NH 03307
Office Phone: 6037835159
Teresa Downey
Farm Administrator
Miles Smith Farm
56 Whitehouse Rd
Loudon, NH 03307
Office Phone: 6037835159
Dorothy Perkins
Agricultural Educator - Technical Advisor
UNH Cooperative Extension Service
315 Daniel Webster Hwy
Boscawen, New Hampshire 03303
Office Phone: 603 796-2151 ext 329