The horse world was rocked this past winter and spring by deadly outbreaks of EHV-1 that occurred in Ontario, Quebec, and at an event in Valencia, Spain, that according to the FEI saw the virus spread to 10 countries and led to 18 equine deaths.
As we all know from the human battle against Covid-19, an unseen enemy can strike terror into us. But when it comes to our horse’s health, viruses aren’t the only fear factor: colic, breeding season issues, and travel can all impact our animal’s vital signs.
A new start-up tech company based in Pennsylvania has been working overtime to help horse owners (and farmers) keep track of their animal’s vital statistics and behaviour patterns in the name of good health. Farm Jenny is the brainchild of Tammy and Rob Crouthamel, who operate their own farm and who saw a need for tech to help with animal welfare.
Tammy is a lifelong horsewoman and rider, but it was her day job in technology (computers and data warehousing) and communications, combined with Rob’s career in electrical engineering, that led to Farm Jenny. The couple recognized that their busy careers made owning their farm more challenging to manage. “It’s hard to run a farm when you’re not there during the day, and to give the animals the level of care that you want them to have. It’s also hard if you’re there all day and manage a large operation,” Tammy Crouthamel says. “You worry about them when you’re on vacation or away at a show. We lost an awesome off-the-track Thoroughbred, Lake, who colicked and died overnight, and nobody was there to help him.”
The couple believed that with their combined professional backgrounds they could solve these issues with technology, and the Farm Jenny was born. The system includes both hardware and software, as well as an ongoing service.
The Farm Jenny works by having horses wear a sensor in a pouch attached to their halter or in Farm Jenny’s equine sensor headband that has a pouch at the poll to hold the sensor. Solar-powered field receivers are placed around the perimeter of the farm to create a network to relay data from the horses’ sensors to the Gateway device. The Gateway Device includes cellular, and it is the only device in the system which requires a power outlet and can be placed anywhere on the farm that you have a cell phone signal and an outlet. Then you download the Farm Jenny app which will show your horse’s location and activities in the moment and in the past in real-time, including:
- Location on the farm, trail and road
- Activity Level – high (running or playing), medium (grazing or eating hay) or low (resting)
- Sleep patterns
- Water levels in each horse’s bucket which tells you intake
- Temperature log and integration with a Bluetooth thermometer that automatically logs each horse’s temperature into their own temperature journal on their horse page.
- Herd dynamics if you have multiple horses turned out together in a field, as well as a way to keep a list of which horses go in each herd to help farm hands on large farms.
- Real-time weather info at your horse’s exact location to help with blanketing and shelter decisions
- Reports showing trends in behavior, activity, water consumption, temperature, etc.
- Current and historical records of all this data
- Veterinary and/or Farm Manager access to your data if you choose
The team are currently working on electric fence sensor detectors as well as door and gate sensors that will provide a notification when a gate, barn door or stall door is opened.
The couple learned firsthand just how important their system is when it came to their rescue horse, Buddy. “He was very unsettled, and we sensed that he wasn’t resting well in our turn-out setting,” explains Crouthamel. “The Farm Jenny data showed that he was not sleeping. He was always in motion, even when kept in a stall. We tried several calming supplements before we found one that seemed to settle him down some. Sure enough, our Farm Jenny data showed that he was suddenly sleeping for normal periods of rest times after the supplement became effective.”
And the system isn’t just for big show barns or race horse operations ‒ it was designed for anyone who keeps horses, from backyard owners to trail riders and everyone in-between.
“Our goal is to get the technology to the point that we can predict that a horse may experience a negative health event such as colic with a certain degree of accuracy within the next few days or week because of subtle changes in behavior,” explains Crouthamel. “Our machine learning and artificial intelligence aren’t there yet, but that’s our goal. For now, we provide you with all of the data and some notifications so that you can take action quickly in the case of any problems or changes. We see Farm Jenny as a tool that can help you to give your veterinarian more information to help in preventing and treating illness.”
Farm Jenny products are approved for use in US and Canada and the company has agreements with most of the major cellular providers in Canada. The cost is approximately $1,200 CDN for the full farm starter kit, which includes one horse sensor and pouch. Each additional sensor and pouch are around $75. The monthly subscription sits around $60 CDN/month.