DMV for Cows?

iPads to beef up California’s cattle inspection process

Back Web Only Sep 15, 2014 By Russell Nichols

If you’re one of those motorists who describe the whole DMV experience as slow, torturous and/or dystopian, consider the cow.

For the longest time, California’s cattle inspectors tracked cows the old-fashioned way: with a handy pen and a lot of paper. With over five million cows in the state, this was not a day-in, day-out kind of job. But those ink-filled years might very soon be history.

With a green light from the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture, California would be one of the nation’s first states to implement a computerized system for processing cows. Inspectors would swap out notepads for iPads to file and track cow data, from registrations and outstanding violations to quarantine zones. With the cow’s brand akin to a car’s license plate, inspectors can upload and download data by connecting wirelessly to the servers at the CDFA headquarters in downtown Sacramento. It’s a faster, more efficient system, a genuine link between new tech and the Old West.

“Picture a cowboy on a horse with an iPad. That tells the whole story,” says Chris Jackson, founder of Sacramento-based IT firm Rowy Networks, which developed the solution. “The system is just as complex as the DMV but for cattle.”

By law, the cattle industry must go through the same types of regulatory checks that your cars do. That means cows are registered, bought and sold, ticketed, sometimes stolen, and checked for health problems. Every birth and death, every sale and slaughter gets reported and filed in a statewide cattle tracking database.

Of course, none of this happens automatically. The state employs inspectors to file the reports. But doing the job longhand led to long hours. Not to mention the potential for problems: lost paperwork, clerical errors, out-of-date records. (Like if you bought a used car online and later found out the seller hadn’t registered the vehicle.)

This approach is different from programs like the one in Michigan, where cows get tracked by radio-frequency ID (RFID) tags in their ears. Beyond California–the fourth largest cattle-producing state–Jackson says he’s shown prototypes of his system to Texas (#1) and Washington (#29), a few Midwestern states and other countries.

“When we go to cattle conventions, other states see the system and they say ‘Holy cow, that’s great! Where do I get that?’” he says.

Grazing the Surface

Jackson, 43, founded Rowy in 2007 with his own money. The company operates out of a corporate headquarters downtown, but also has a data center in McClellan Business Park. Despite his high-tech profession and background in physics, he has roots in agriculture. His grandparents immigrated to the region from Mexico. His grandfather worked in the rice industry in Yolo County while his grandmother put in hours at the Blue Diamond almond factory.

“Now, here we are digitizing agriculture,” Jackson says.

Looking ahead, Jackson aims to shift his company into broader applications for agricultural inspections. Overall, he believes the field is wide open and the Sacramento Region is in a prime position to lead the movement.

“California is a leader in technology and agriculture, and the two fields rarely talk,” he says. “I think this region has an opportunity to generate an industry and do what Silicon Valley won’t do.”


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