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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMelissa Brandao talks about her company's HerdDogg tags, which can track the health and whereabouts of cattle.

Ashland company rides herd on success

The stage is set for HerdDogg to ride herd as a real-time data provider for beef and dairy producers.

Armed with $2.3 million in venture capital, the three-year-old Ashland-based firm founded by Melissa Brandao has not only ramped up production of its patented tracking system, but is hiring a sales force to carve out a niche in the $1 trillion large-animal livestock industry.

After years of pursuing electric farm utility vehicle production, which included to a trip with other entrepreneurs to the White House, Brandao concluded tracking technology was a more viable business.

“We didn’t need a vehicle, the device fits in your pocket,” Brandao said of the Bluetooth-based system that can transmit data up to 30 feet. “The focus has gone from gathering and storing data to real-time data for producers.”

Brandao and her team developed a three-part system, starting with a DoggTag that is attached to cattle’s ears and weighs less than half an ounce. The DoggBone reader collects data and a cell phone app retrieves data and stores individual animal history in the cloud. The 13-gram transmitters give producers breeding, health and tracking capabilities.

“They know when the animal is in heat or breedable; if there is a change in behavior and their temperature is going up; and if the animal is where they are expected to be,” she said. “The biggest thing is that our network moves with the animals into remote areas. The competition tends to be focused on the barn and establishing data collection around the barn.”

A fourth metric, documenting calving, is in development and should be ready sometime in 2019.

“They lose their babies pretty frequently, so there pretty significant value proposition,” Brandao said.

Venture capital firm Serra Ventures of Champaign, Illinois, led the funding round with additional financing from Munich-based Innova Ventures and iSelect of St. Louis. As part of the transaction, Rob Schultz, managing partner of Serra Ventures, joined HerdDogg’s board of directors, along with Tom Trone, a former John Deere executive.

“We look for companies that solve difficult problems in really large industries,” Schultz said in a statement. “HerdDogg, through its patented animal sensor technologies, has the opportunity to build a unique dataset of animal vitals.”

HerdDogg sold about 10,000 of mint green colored tags last year, and Brandao anticipates selling 50,000 in the next 12 months. After that the goal is to grow by 25 percent annually. With more than 10 million dairy cows and 85 million beef cattle in the U.S., 50,000 is just a drop in the bucket, she said.

The company has 12 employees, but has been adding to its sales force every two weeks over the past couple of months, she said.

While it’s based in the Rogue Valley, HerdDogg has a data science office in Denver and a Fresno, California, sales office in close proximity to millions of cows.

The plastic casing and the patented electronics are engineered in Oregon.

The hardware testing and mechanical engineering was led by local manufacturer Michael Sorensen.

“We wanted to make the tag as light as possible,” Sorensen said. “It’s a hermetically sealed envelope we can actually cut apart to replace electronics and battery within a three-year time period. So the electronics and software can continue to be upgraded.”

Tags can be turned on and off to improve identification in the field.

“If the ear tag is not visible because the animal is moving around, you can turn the LED on and say ‘Oh, there’s Bessie over there in the corner, let’s go get her,’” Brandao said.

The data analytics service pricing is $3 to $4 per tag per month, she said. A starter set with 25 Doggtags and a DoggBone reader is listed on the website for $500.

“Up to this point we’ve been working on the hardware design and the data analytics,” Brandao said. “This money is going to get us to market and to the point where we can start working sales channel opportunities.”

The company has worked closely with Fresno State University — with the largest concentration of dairy cows in the country, the Fresno area will be a major sales target.

“We’re working with owners who have been in business for a while, who are facing the pressure of labor costs that continue to climb,” she said. “They’re good-sized dairies, not mega-dairies or micro-dairies, or family-run operations.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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