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Engineering students design cow camera to assist researchersEngineering students design cow camera to assist researchers

Electrical engineering students developing camera prototype to help monitor activity in cows on the Jornada Range in New Mexico.

September 1, 2016

3 Min Read
Engineering students design cow camera to assist researchers

How a rangeland cow spends its time — what and how much it eats, where it goes, what it interacts with — is a question facing researchers interested in optimizing range management practices.

Four New Mexico State University electrical engineering students are working on a camera prototype that may help in making these observations without interfering with the cows like aerial observation might. Seniors Zach Abbott, Christian De La Pena, German Montes and Adrian Palos are in the process of developing a camera that can be affixed to a harness around a cow’s neck.


The students are part of the two-semester-long senior capstone design class advised by Laura Boucheron, assistant professor in the Klipsch School of Electrical & Computer Engineering at New Mexico State.

The purpose of the camera is to help researchers learn about cattle at the Jornada Experimental Range northeast of Las Cruces, N.M. Rick Estell, research animal scientist with the Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research program, is part of a team studying Raramuri Criollo cattle.

“Raramuri Criollo is a biotype that’s pretty rare,” Estell said. “It originated in Northern Africa and came over with the Spaniards in the 1500s into Central America. They went through this process of natural selection for 500 years or so before gradually disappearing, except in isolated areas.”

About 10 years ago, Estell’s colleague brought 27 Criollo cows to the Jornada Range from Mexico. Now, the population on the range is about 200 cows.

“What we’re doing is comparing these animals to the standard black baldies (Angus/Hereford crossbreds) that most producers in this area use,” Estell said. “There’s hardly any information on Criollo, so we want to know what they’re eating and how they distribute themselves on the landscape.”

The engineering students and Boucheron went to the Jornada Range earlier to take some measurements. Several factors must be taken into consideration, such as the circumference of the cow’s neck and the distance from the camera location to the vegetation on the ground.

The electronics of the camera are complete at this point, and the next step is packaging the camera. The students will need to come up with a design that can withstand weather and force. Regarding placement, they need to consider any obstructions that may arise.

“At this point in the project, the biggest challenge is going to be designing an enclosure for the device,” Abbott said. “It will need to contain all the systems and meet our durability requirements.”

If the prototype works, Estell hopes that placing cameras on multiple cows eventually will help him and other researchers gather useful information.

“The idea is that these are hardy animals that are very adapted to harsh environments, and some of the larger cattle we use nowadays can be a little bit harder on the landscape than what we want them to be,” he said. "So, we’re looking for something that’s a little bit more matched to this fragile ecosystem.”

At this early stage, researchers do not know whether there are significant advantages to Criollo cattle, Estell said, noting that there are some drawbacks to the smaller animals.

Data have been collected since 1915 on the Jornada Experimental Range, which has been operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. Data for the "Long Term Ecological Research" project, administered by New Mexico State, have been collected since 1983.

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