March 14, 2022
Farm labor shortages have brought about a host of innovations by tech companies to help crop farmers. Yet the founders of Smooth Ag. Solutions believe those Silicon Valley startups are missing out on another opportunity: cattle — specifically, feeding supplement to cattle on pasture. But they have a solution in the V1 Ranch Rover, a fully autonomous feeder.
“It’s going to be the first-ever pastureland autonomous cattle feeding rover,” says Hunter Allemand, co-founder of Smooth Ag. “Think about your flatbed truck with your trip hopper or whatever you use on the ranch to supplement pasture feeding. This is just an autonomous version.” Allemand works with River McTasney, co-founder and CEO of Smooth Ag.
With the machine’s plentiful tech, Allemand likens the V1 Ranch Rover to a pickup. The Ranch Rover is also part of a range of tech innovations Smooth Ag is working on for the “smart” ranch, which includes gathering more cattle data for improved management.
Powered by a 24.9-hp Honda engine, the Ranch Rover can haul up to a ton of feed using any hopper. Its independent front suspension with four-wheel drive allows the machine to travel over rugged pastures.
“[River and I] come from ranching backgrounds, and when he was implementing the solution, it was for his own ranch to help augment his capabilities,” Allemand says.
The rig is outfitted with an RTK GPS antenna for precision driving inside the predetermined geo-fence set up by the user. The design uses artificial intelligence for obstacle avoidance, remote monitoring and data collection.
“Most autonomous solutions on the market, or coming to market, are getting made predominantly for crop production,” he says. “What we’re trying to do with the Rover is add another tool to the toolbox of the rancher who is seeing lower margins and having trouble finding labor.”
He notes that if Wall Street is having trouble finding workers, getting people who want to saddle up every day or get in the feed truck on a cold morning will be even more difficult. “We’re trying to solve a multifactor problem with this,” he adds.
As the machine works through a pasture, it collects data. “Between wild weather patterns or high grain prices … in farming, good data is really something that can help give a producer a competitive edge,” Allemand says.
It also frees up labor for work in other areas of the ranch from fence mending to calving.
The designers aim to have rover run for up to 250 miles on a fill, depending on the fuel tank setup on the final machine. Allemand says a range of customization options will be available when the machine launches.
Each day the Ranch Rover will run its “mission” to deliver feed along a predetermined course in the pasture. The system can work with cattle guards or over-the-fence systems to move from pasture to pasture.
When it’s empty, the Ranch Rover will notify the user, who then sends the machine to a location to pick up more cake. Future designs will allow the unit to automatically return to the bulk feeder to reload, Allemand says.
Bringing robotics to more mundane tasks like pasture feeding offers new ways to maximize labor. Smooth Ag is carving out a niche with the V1 Ranch Rover. Its next step is third-party funding to manufacture the machine. Learn more at smoothag.com.
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