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There’s now a plethora of startups competing to sell various forms of livestock surveillance gadgets and fitbits to monitor the animals’ movements, hormonal cycles, health and behaviour. Most of these factors are essential to achieving one key objective: a higher pregnancy rate. A sick cow, after all, is an unproductive cow.

Shearwell Data is the “market leader for cattle and sheep tags in the UK”, including electronic tags. It is owned by the Webber family and based in Wheddon Cross, Somerset.
LIC is a New Zealand-based agritech company with offices in the UK, Ireland and Australia. It is a cooperative owned by farmers and describes itself as one of NZ’s largest private investors in agricultural research and development. LIC supplies electronic tags and collars, as well as livestock genetics.
Nedap is a Dutch multinational which describes itself as a pioneer in RFID technology, particularly in cattle management, for which it supplies “smart” neck and leg tags. Nedap also produces robotic cow corralling technologies and automated feeding systems, as well as a range of technologies of non-agricultural application, such as ANPR, access control tools like card readers, and RFID tags for products in shops. Nedap has offices in Reading. It is listed on the Amsterdam-based Euronext exchange.
Datamars is the product of a merger between Swiss watch producer Audemars and Italian data firm Datalogic. Datamars is now in electric fencing, livestock tagging and pet tracking through its various brands.
Ceres Tag claims to be the “first animal monitoring information platform with direct to satellite capability”, developed with the Australian research agency Csiro. In the 1950s, Csiro was responsible for releasing the virus that causes myxomatosis to control rabbit populations in Australia. This resulted in the evolution of myxomatosis-resistant rabbits.
SmaXtec is a company trying to gain a competitive edge by taking the entirely unnecessary step of forcing cows to ingest 13cm "boluses”: tracking devices which emit signals from within the cow’s stomach to the farmers’ phone. The Austrian company also has a presence in Derbyshire.


Selective breeding for particular traits using a very limited gene pool has resulted in extreme inbreeding. Virtually all the world’s Holsteins, a top breed of dairy cow, descend from just two bulls bred in the 1960s. Here are some of the genetics megacorporations which supply semen and embryos from select parentage to farms across the world.

Genus. A publicly-listed British company which supplies “elite breeding animals, semen and embryos to over 50,000 customers in over 80 countries, including the majority of the world’s Top 100 pig and dairy farmers.” The company’s work in the dairy and beef industries is mainly conducted via ABS Global, a huge US livestock genetics company and subsidiary which it acquired in the late nineties. The acquisition led to what at the time was described as the “largest artificial insemination company”. Top shareholders include Capital Group, Baillie Gifford and BlackRock.
Semex. A bovine genetics business selling embryos and semen. It is an alliance of three Canadian-based companies dating back to the 1940s, WestGen, EastGen and CIAQ (Centre d'insémination artificielle du Québec), and has a worldwide presence.
Urus. A US-based cattle breeding group comprising Alta Genetics, GENEX, Jetstream Genetics, PEAK, SCCL, and VAS. The company says it inseminates “1 cow every second across the globe”.
Viking Genetics. A cooperative formed of a merger between Denmark and Sweden’s artificial Insemination centres. It is “owned by 20,000 dairy and beef farmers" in Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

Gene editing

The government is currently pushing through a bill to deregulate the research and sale of gene-edited food. Gene editing is a form of genetic modification which involves adding, removing or modifying the genes of organisms. For example, to produce meatier beef cattle, or cows who produce less methane. Whilst presented as a precise technology, critics say that isn’t the case and that there are serious risks involved, pointing to disasters such as the gene-edited hornless cattle who accidentally received DNA from bacteria during the experiment.

Rothamsted Research – Established in 1843, it describes itself as “the world's oldest agricultural research institute”. Rothamsted is based in Hertfordshire and also has sites in Devon, Suffolk and Bedfordshire. It runs field trials of GM and GE crops. In 2012, hundreds of anti-GM campaigners protested at the site of its GM wheat trials with the stated aim of ripping up the crops. Its website was then hacked in an action claimed by members of the Anonymous hacker movement. The institute has recently been working on gene editing feedcrops for cattle and sheep that would reduce the animals’ methane emissions.
John Innes Centre – A research centre in Norwich specialising in plant science and genetics. It carries out gene editing experiments and is a strong advocate of GE. While it focuses on “providing resources to the academic community”, it also touts its services to corporations, for example, by selling technology to modify cereals and brassicas.
Roslin Institute – A centre at the University of Edinburgh focused on genetics research in support of agribusiness. The Roslin Institute's director, Bruce Whitelaw experiments in the “development of genetically engineered livestock for biomedical and agricultural applications”. He is also on the advisory board of Recombinetics. The Institute is noted for having created Dolly the Sheep, the first cloned mammal. It has partnered with genetics company Genus to produce gene-edited pigs for the pork industry.

Methane Capture

Zelp (Zero Emissions Livestock Project), a startup launched at the Royal College of Art, has developed cattle masks which convert methane to CO2, as a technofix for the meat and dairy industries’ enormous carbon emissions. Cargill, agribusiness giant and animal feed provider linked to massive Amazon deforestation, will be the exclusive distributor of this “green” technology in Europe.

Shock collars

Some companies are now promoting “virtual fencing” through livestock collars which emit sounds, then shocks, to dissuade the animals from going near the edges. The “fences” are determined by the farmer, usually through an app, and are invisible. The animals must learn to avoid the “fence” by associating it with the shock and sound, but some animals never learn how it works.

Companies working in this field include: US startup, Vence; New Zealand firms Halter and Gallagher; and Norwegian company, NoFence.

Robotic milking

Over the course of the 20th century, hand milking was replaced by a combination of automated and manual processes. The total robotisation of the milking process, which works through a system of checkpoints, sensors and collars, has been growing since the 1990s. Being corralled and controlled by unseen machine systems is likely to be confusing and disorientating for the animals.

DeLaval. Part of the Swiss food and packaging multinational Tetra Laval Group, which is perhaps better known for another of its subsidiaries, Tetra Pak. The Group is owned by a “trio of billionaire siblings” from the Rausing family. DeLaval is one of the oldest producers of milking machinery, with a 125-year history of manufacture.
GEA. A German engineering giant which describes itself as “one of the world’s largest systems suppliers for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical sectors”. GEA’s humble pre-war beginnings were in technology to improve hygiene in the dairy industry, and it still counts dairy processing as one of its main lines of work.
Lely. A private Dutch multinational that produces agricultural machinery, particularly robots for the dairy industry.
BouMatic Robotics. Another private Dutch company which in its own words, “focuses on introducing robots into dairy farming”. The company makes the robots itself in its 5000m2 factory in Emmeloord, Netherlands. The company dates back to 1930s.