Wearable fitness trackers have become a hot must-have gadget among the tech-savvy and health-conscious, but the devices have still not taken off to the point where beef cattle are wearing them.
That is, not until now.
While Fitbit Inc., Jawbone and other wearables companies strive to dominate a lively consumer market largely concentrated in mertropolitan areas, something altogether different is happening in Kansas City.
In the country’s Farm Belt, where the health of animals can make the difference between a profitable year and going bust, wearable health trackers are making their way to the herd.
“Traditionally, we used a cowboy on a horse for this job,” said Chris Ragland, chief executive at agriculture business-intelligence firm Animalytix LLC and a member of the selection committee at the Kansas City Health Investment Forum.
The forum, held this week, has drawing an ever-increasing number of Silicon Valley venture capitalists looking for opportunities in the animal-health sector, conference organizers say.
Mr. Ragland, who reviewed 39 applications from animal-health startups looking to present at the conference, chose 17 companies to participate, with three of them being makers of wearable health trackers for cows.
All three companies are looking to provide earlier identification of bovine respiratory disease and other common ailments.
“I’m optimistic about these companies raising funding,” he said, adding that bovine respiratory disease is the greatest single financial drag on the beef industry. “It’s tens of millions of dollars a year. There is really an economic interest here, and an animal-welfare interest.”
Two of the three early-stage companies, Quantified Ag Inc. and Precision Animal Solutions LLC, have designed high-tech ear tags that can monitor movement, social interactions, feeding activity and other metrics that can show if members of a herd are behaving differently.
Both companies make tags and readers that can be placed in feed lots to collect and transmit data about herds.
“Without this, it’s a needle in a haystack,” said Vishal Singh, chief executive at Quantified Ag. “We can quickly see what animals need attention.”
The company has so far raised about $325,000 in seed funding, and is now seeking a Series A round, Mr. Singh said.
Precision Animal Solutions has raised grant funding and is also seeking investment, Chief Executive Brad White said.
The third animal-tracking company that made waves at the conference is St. Louis, Mo.-based iNovotec Animal Care Inc., which is looking to diagnose acidosis in cows’ stomachs, which can lead to death.
The company makes bolus devices that are administered to cows orally, and which take readings on temperature and acidity and transmit the information when the animal walks within 20 feet of a receiver that reads the gadget’s signal, the company said.
John McAllister, the company’s chief executive, said the company has so far raised funding from angel investors and the Missouri Technology Corp.
Mr. Ragland, who was part of the selection process that brought the three companies to the Kansas City Health Investment Forum, said animal-tracking could parallel phenomena seen elsewhere in the tech world.
“I believe there’s going to be a winner,” he said.