Fitbit-like device for cows

Nate Beck
Now Media Group


It's a hot, hazy morning under the awning where cattle congregate at Abel Dairy in Eden, 2,200 miles from Silicon Valley.

This doesn't feel like tech start-up country, but it is.

Over five years, David Cook, a co-owner of Eden start-up BoviSync, developed software that organizes and analyzes the health of a herd of cows. Dairy owners can use the software to learn why milk production has dipped, how illnesses have spread through their herd and other ways.

With a smartphone strapped to his wrist, Cook uses a wand to scan an electronic chip embedded in dairy cows. Think Fitbit for cows. Each animal's vital signs can be relayed to BoviSync's system, then broken down into scatterplots and spreadsheets.

Cook holds a doctorate, a master's degree and undergraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in fields at the intersection of dairy and engineering. As dairies become larger and more sophisticated, creations like his help eliminate the guess work of cattle production and bovine health.

'The dairy industry is becoming a lot more technical,' Cook said. 'Quite a few of the very large farms are already using a system similar to this.'

Cook learned skills for his startup from an entrepreneur development course at Fond du Lac's Emergent Technology Center. The 12-week session aims to help people bring their business ideas to fruition. Wisconsin often tracks near or at the bottom of state-by-state start-up rankings, but the center is working to change that.

Cook learned to develop back-end business planning steps to launch BoviSync. The software was largely completed when he enrolled in the course, but there are always more steps to starting a business than developing a good product, Cook said.

He and his team had worked years on the software, so getting constructive feedback before launching was helpful, he said.

'It's like building QuickBooks from scratch,' Cook said. 'You're not going to do it overnight.'

Sitting at his kitchen table, Cook pulled up the BoviSync site on a Microsoft tablet. Through an array of graphs, he can see how much milk each cow produces over an extended period. The software allows nearby dairy farms to share their statistics (neighbor farms are rarely in direct competition) to compare if a production drop is isolated or a seasonal trend.

Cook's challenge is that dairy farmers are reluctant to update equipment, but there have been hopeful signs. Abel Farms, just down the road from Cook's home, saw value in Cook's product and made the switch.

Cook hopes that as larger dairies adopt his software, smaller operations will see the value in his product, too.

In this niche market of dairy technology, the best test of a good product is a farmer's recommendation, Cook said.