Jonathan Wong creates a new app to help dairy farmers keep their herds healthy
A new app could help dairy farmers decide what to do when a cow is unwell.
The Betty app uses machine learning algorithms to help dairy farmers diagnose sick cows in their herd.
Farmers using the app are presented with series of questions, with the response combined with regional farm and weather data to produce a list of the most likely causes of disease in their animals.
If a cow was seriously sick a vet could be called, said app developer Dr Jonathan Wong.
He said the app would not replace a veterinarian, but would indicate whether they needed to be called in earlier rather than later.
"We are seeing people straight from school working on dairy farms. They don't know how to treat a sick animal or anything about its health. This app will help them."
He said the idea was born out of frustration, while he was working as a dairy veterinarian in Canterbury. Wong graduated Massey University with his veterinary science degree in 2013.
"There are a lot of farmers out there who are reluctant to call a vet early, especially if a problem is perceived to be minor. A vet is often called as a last resort and it can sometimes be too late."
This might be the case for a cow with a retained calf.
"The farmer tried to get it out. He called the vet after a week. After that time, the calf was rotten and the result wasn't good for the cow either," he said.
"With Betty we can help farmers decide whether or not their sick cow is an emergency and to take immediate action, or connect them with a local vet if need be."
The app has been on trial with a core group of 31 farmers, who are providing on-farm feedback to improve the app's artificial intelligence engine.
"It's all about experience. While a typical dairy vet sees up to 10 cases a day, the Betty AI engine has the ability to assess hundreds of sick cows every hour - and is continuously refining her algorithm with each one," said Samuel Woods, a dairy farmer who runs a 600-cow herd in Canterbury and helped trial the app.
Wong said Betty would query a farmer whether a problem had struck one cow, or multiple animals, whether it was still breathing or if it was a downer cow.
"We ask these questions to try to work out what the health problem might be. All these questions have yes, no or maybe as an answer."
"The reality is there are many inexperienced workers entering the dairy industry," said Wood. "With millions of dollars worth of livestock to manage, you need to give them all the tools to find sick cows early."
The Betty app is free on the New Zealand Apple App Store.
Wong said the app was free because he planned to use farmer feedback to improve its AI engine, before releasing it overseas.
"And then, maybe, we'll release an app for cat owners too," he laughed.