“You amalgamate everything into one small handheld computer.”
– ROGER HEEG
You could say that whenever Roger Heeg walks through his dairy barn, he has the situation well in hand.
Heeg uses a specially developed software program on a hand-held Smartphone – a BlackBerry, in this case – to keep tabs on his dairy cows.
Called SmartCow Mobile, the “app” (to use the tekkie term) gives Heeg immediate access to information without having to make mental notes, ruffle
through a pile of paper or run to the office to check the PC.
“This app can go on the handheld and you can have the information right away,” said Heeg, a milk producer from Dunnville, Ontario. “It saves you a ton of time.”
Walk down the alley of Heeg’s dairy barn, where he and his family milk 200 cows, and you see what he means. The app shows five columns containing individual information on each cow: her number, number of days in lactation, pregnant or not, when she was bred, how many days bred.
“It gives the farmer information in the hand that he usually gets from the computer when he’s in the office,” said Heeg. “You amalgamate everything into one small hand-held computer.”
Using portable information in dairy barns isn’t exactly new. Industry reps often carry laptops around. Producers have been known to use PDAs, or PalmPilots, containing dairy software.
But the significant difference is that a PDA is not a mobile phone and SmartCow Mobile is.
“The phone capability allows you to use it as more than just a personal hand-held,” Heeg said.
He got the idea about eight years ago while shopping unsuccessfully in Canadian Tire for an electronic calculator with a calendar schedule. He tried using an Excel spreadsheet but kept losing data.
Finally, he developed his own concept, hired some programmers and came up with SmartCow Mobile.
Still in its early days, the software has limitations. Heeg uses it for breeding information but so far nothing else. Including other data (e. g., milking records, somatic cell counts, DHI) would overload the system’s limited capacity. Heeg said he had to keep scaling back his program while developing it.
But Heeg sees a time when SmartCow Mobile could become a complete dairy package, once the rapidly developing technology makes smart phones capable of handling more data.
Heeg also sees other applications beyond milk production. Beef producers might also use it for their own breeding programs. It might take some adapting, but crop producers might also use the concept for information about seeding, spraying and harvesting.
SmartCow Mobile isn’t available commercially yet. Heeg, who farms 45 minutes from Niagara Falls, hopes eventually to market the product for a retail price of around $1,200 per unit.