A Computer Program Called BETSY Could Be Your Next Ranch Hand

It happened: facial recognition and 24/7 video surveillance of every movement. It may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but don’t worry. It’s not for you. It’s for your cattle.

An artificial intelligence system named BETSY has been developed by OneCup AI, an Alberta-based tech startup. The company offers it to producers who want to adopt the technology as a way to improve efficiency, herd health and peace of mind.

Using enhanced Wi-Fi and security cameras mounted in high traffic areas such as water troughs, salt pans or feeding stations, OneCup AI uses facial recognition to track up to 1 000 cattle.

According to the company, BETSY can improve farmers’ return on investment by fulfilling many observation and reporting roles, including early disease detection by tracking breathing, coughing, lameness, arching of the back and depression.

“What we provide is an extra view of the field when farmers can’t be there,” said Mokah Shmigelsky, CEO of OneCup AI. “It’s as if an AI ranch worker was there when he wasn’t on the farm doing his other job or wanted to get some sleep during calving season. We are a proactive monitoring system.

The company may work with feedlots, but is currently focused on cow-calf operations. BETSY monitors intake and output, which play a vital role in animal growth. The system also tracks feed consumption, helping to determine optimal rations to reduce costs and optimize feeding schedules.

Calf tracking

How does the company teach BETSY to recognize issues like lameness?

“Really, it’s just about how you’ll learn — the same way you learn to recognize that an animal is limping,” Shmigelsky said. “BETSY learns the same way. She learns by seeing animals that limp compared to animals that don’t.

BETSY automatically sends text messages or emails, depending on what is happening with a specific herd or animal. Farmers also have a comprehensive dashboard of their animal data points, with overviews or spreadsheets at the herd or individual animal level.

“You can add more information about your animals if you already have some on your farm,” Shmigelsky said. “And then all your data is in one place.”

Technology in its current form is intended to augment staff, not replace them. But the company is making improvements, and the lack of skilled talent in the agriculture industry could make BETSY even more useful.

“It could basically replace a ranch hand,” Shmigelsky said. “You may only need to hire one ranch hand for your summer season instead of two or three, so this can really help with staffing in the future.”

Looking for early adopters

A 300-head cattle rancher who uses rotational grazing said BETSY might not work well on his operation, but the system could have other applications. Ben Campbell, who operates Tullichewan Ranch with his wife Stephanie near Black Diamond, said there are huge differences in ranch management styles.

“Because I move them every day or every other day, any lame or ailing cow is always at the back of the herd when she passes,” he said. “It only takes me 30 minutes every other day to do it. There isn’t really any opportunity to save time or labor as I’m already in an extremely low labor time situation.

BETSY could work for feedlots, dairies or farms where cows are moved less frequently, where a small number of people manage many animals or where staff may be unreliable.

“To me, that’s where it feels like he has a tremendous opportunity,” Campbell said. “The feedlot-type situations, there’s a huge opportunity, and then those ranches where they don’t check the cows all the time would be another opportunity.”

The standard OneCup AI system uses four cameras that cost $40 per month each. The system installation fee is $995.

“During the calving period, farmers can place cameras in the barn or in the pens where the calvings are for the first time,” Shmigelsky said. “They are easy to move. These are standard security cameras, so they are very easy to move to where your pets go.

Ryan H. Bowman