Australian software company Z Ware has developed cattle recognition technology designed to fight the growing and lucrative scourge of cattle rustling, streamline management, and provide a reliable non-harmful cattle identification platform.
The technology – called Stoktake – works by taking a photo of the cow’s face on a smartphone or tablet, uploading it to Stoktake’s proprietary AI and Machine Learning cloud platform which produces a profile of the cow which is then shared with the cow’s owner.
“The identification algorithm profiles a cow in a way that produces the same outcome as unique as fingerprints on humans,” said Z Ware Founder and CEO Dr Phillip Zada. “It has an accuracy of over 99% based on the 500 cattle images we have tested. Our intention is to test another 150,000 images. On farm trials start next month.”
There are already several ways a cow is currently identified such as ear tagging, branding, retinal scans, e-tags, RFID tags imbedded in the animal and DNA testing. But, Dr Zada said, the ear tags can be easily ripped off, branding modified, RFID tags cut out and the high cost and time-consuming process of DNA matching.
“Our process is quicker and will be a supplemental method to existing technologies.”
Dr Zada said the project was being tested by several farmers before rolling out the technology more broadly. “We also need to put some additional work into the costing model because it needs to be affordable whether you are a hobby farmer or have a large-scale operation.”
Cattle rustling is one of Australia’s oldest crimes, having been around almost since the First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788 with four cattle.
PwC estimates that 28,400 head of cattle are stolen annually – out of a national herd predicted this year to reach 25.2 million. The average price of the animal is $3,700 making the issue a $105 million a year one.
A 2020 report for the Centre for Rural Criminology at the University of New England by Dr Kyle Mulrooney – who has worked closely with Dr Zada on the project – found that 44% of farmers in NSW reported theft of livestock.
Dr Mulrooney found that this number was likely to be under reported with fewer than half of the farmers surveyed indicating they would report crime they experienced “all of the time”.
This is backed up by the Victorian Farmers Federation which said that in 2021 there were 267 livestock theft offences reported with 230 still unsolved.
“Farm crime is rampant as offenders are at a low risk of being caught because of the space and remoteness of many farms. But the reward of the crime is high,” Dr Mulrooney said.
Time in jail does not seem to be a deterrent to cattle thieves with it carrying a maximum sentence of 14 years.
The issue has also been heightened this year with a high-profile case of alleged cattle rustling in the Northern Territory with a 71-year-old man arrested and charged with allegedly stealing 1,200 head of cattle valued at $1.47 million.
Several states are confronting the issue head on with:
- The Northern Territory last year setting up Taskforce Starlight, a collaboration between NT Police, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Livestock Biosecurity and the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association to combat stock theft.
- In August NSW’s Rural Crime Prevention team relaunched Operation Stock Check, an ongoing and proactive operation to prevent livestock theft by disrupting the movement of stolen stock throughout NSW.
- With livestock theft hitting a 10-year high in Victoria, the Victorian Farmers Federation is lobbying the Victorian Government to increase investment in detectives who specialise in farm-related offences.
Dr Zada said Ag Tech was not the usual space for Z Ware to work in as it is known for its digital transformation projects for governments and enterprise clients. “We are also innovators and that is where Stoktake sits.”
Dr Zada decided to look at facial recognition because he saw a need in the market with the lack of love for rural challenges.
“We have made some vast differences in Ag Tech in the past few years, but there is so much more we can do,” he said.
“Farmers are struggling to keep up with demand, higher costs, and labour shortages – innovation’s like Stoktake can keep the country alive.
“I believe the Australian technology sector is one of the best in the world. We have brilliant people in this country, and we are all about collaboration. Our aim is to build the best platform as an Australian solution, in Australia by Australians.”
For the past 12 months Dr Zada has been hosting a monthly roundtable forum involving police, academics, farmers and subject matter experts. It has seen the project go from concept to where it is ready to go to market.
Eventually Z Ware hopes to have each cow’s unique facial identifier as part of a national cattle imaging record. More information is available at stoktake.au.
Z Ware is headquartered in Melbourne with offices in Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra and Armidale in NSW.