More than one million farms in the United States bring in less than $10,000 per year, meaning most of those farmers need a day job to pay the bills. Farm Jenny, a Pittsburgh startup, wants to give farmers a way to monitor their animals while they're away.
That solution comes in the form of wearable technology for animals. Like a FitBit, it tracks the number of steps the animal takes per day. The company is also working on solar-powered sensors that recognize when an animal walks by, and a gadget for the barn that collects the wearable device's data when the animal is near. That apparatus sends data to the cloud, where it can be accessed by the farmer on their smartphone.
Farm Jenny co-founder Tammy Crouthamel said the goal is to give farmers insight into their animals' behavior when they're not around.
"It could be as simple as the animal's relationship to the rest of its herd," she said. "With dairy cattle, is that cow seperating itself from the rest of the herd suddenly, when normally she would be with them grazing in the pasture?"
Crouthamel said the number of steps an animal takes per day, combined with factors such as the weather and what other animals in the herd are doing can paint a good picture of what's normal for that animal.
Farm Jenny was built from a personal need; Crouthamel and her husband own a small farm north of Pittsburgh with horses and chickens, but they've held day jobs in the tech sector for decades.
The company's first commercial product, for monitoring horses, will launch in November. Crouthamel said one of the reasons they're focusing on horses is that it's easier to attach a wearable to a larger animal.
"My ultimate goal is to get the cost of the hardwear down low enough that it makes sense even for chickens," she said.
A second launch next year will include improved machine learning. The app will predict injuries and illness based on data trends and offer recommendations to the farmer to prevent problems.