For most dairy products farmers, the milk flowing from their cows is tested by a traveling technician once a month. But Ia world where bovine mastitis can appear overnight, it is gloomy ridiculous to test the flowing milk of cows once a month. Today at TechCrunch Startup Battlefield, Laboratory came up with a different solution, with an in-line optical sensor that can test cows at every milking. For now, the product detects potential problems early, but over time the company believes it can begin to predict problems before they arise.
The company’s product is called MilKey and comes in two variations: a portable product that can be used anywhere, or an inline product that can be hooked up to milking machines, allowing everyday farmers to test continuously.
The main difference between the two products is also in their strengths. The portable device can be used by any technician in the field (literally); you select the cow you are testing on a smartphone app, and the test results are displayed with the correct animal. This is great when a cow is walking around or if you suspect a particular animal is sick. The online device is fully automatic and works via Wi-Fi. For this device, the results have to be manually assigned to the correct cow, but this allows every cow, every milking to be tested.
Labby tells TechCrunch that the device takes spectral measurements of milk samples and uploads them to the cloud. From there, the company uses machine learning models to take spectral readings as inputs. It can estimate the milk content, broken down into fat, protein and somatic cell count. Once measurements are taken and assigned to an animal, breeders can use an app or any web browser to view the full testing history of any animal, to ensure they are getting on well. beyond cattle in terms of milk production.
“Animal health records are like human records; they provide essential information on animal health and feed efficiency. It turns out that milk is the best biomarker for everything. Currently, the industry only tests once a month for each animal. We believe this is a systemic failure for farmers and for animals,” says Julia Somerdin, CEO and founder of Labby, in an interview with TechCrunch. “A complication for animal health is mastitis. It is one of the most common but costly diseases, and it can change from day to day. So when they do 30 day testing, the test will tell you everything is fine, but the next day the animal could develop a case, which can be subclinical with no symptoms. So for farmers, between test days, they have no idea what the condition of the animal is.
You may be wondering “who cares”, but dairy farming is one hell of an industry. There are 9 million cows on 40,000 farms in the United States. Worldwide, there are 250 million cows on 115 million farms; everything adds up.
“With our solution, we can provide real-time on-farm testing to help provide the farmer with daily, weekly and monthly health records,” says Somerdin. “Animal health is the critical indicator that is missing in today’s industry practices.”
From the numbers and the impact, you won’t be surprised that there is big money involved. The best milk gives farmers the best price, which means the quality of the milk is directly linked revenue, the Labby team tells me. The benefit is twofold: healthier cows require less veterinary attention and higher quality milk earns milk producers more money per gallon of milk delivered.
“We can insert Labby into the value chain. The dairy industry is a very input-intensive industry. So we have all kinds of suppliers that help farmers produce more milk of better quality, and then dairy farmers sell their milk to dairy processors. With our service, the great battle, besides the economic aspect, is to create all this data in real time”, explains Somerdin. “Animal genetics companies can use this data, helping them refine their algorithms. We can also bridge the gap between dairy farmers and veterinarians, enabling telehealth for cows. »
Besides the fact that when I hear “telehealth for cows” I laugh at the thought of a cow staring at a Zoom screen and talking about her feelings and her four stomach ailments, it’s easy to see how Labby adds significant value and ability to be an early warning system for animal health.
“The most important thing is that you no longer need a technician to sample the milk. Cleaning can also be integrated into the current system,” says Somerdin, explaining how the company designed a set-and-forget approach for ongoing testing.
Labby was part of Techstars and raised a total of $1.3 million from them and a number of other investors, including MIT Media Lab’s E14 fund.
The company officially started selling its products in early October and has just started shipping its products to customers. In the short term, it’s a hardware + SaaS business, but after that, it’s time to start mining the data itself for wisdom.
“Our business model has three revenue streams. For dairy farmers, they pay once for the hardware equipment and then monthly for us to deliver the tests in the cloud. The farmer pays per cow per day,” says Somerdin. “In addition, we look at data. We believe that we generate significant value for the industry, as well as for genetic companies. We will have data license fees, but we will wait to offer this until we have half a million cows on the platform.
Over time, the company also hopes to be able to use Big Data to glimpse the future.
“The data will help us develop a reliable benchmark for each animal,” Somerdin says, and suggests that deviations from the benchmark might tell you something about what’s going on with the cows, from a health perspective. “Based on this, we can examine the recognition of disease onset patterns in the herd. We could also predict milk production patterns, which are currently only based on historical data, which limits their accuracy.
Overall, the company seems keen to (milk) shake up the industry and bring all farmers into the yard. And they’re like, it’s better than yours. They will teach you, but they will have to charge.