This Indian dairy tech startup created a step counter for cows

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Now, a tech startup wants to take wearables to another market: cows.

Bangalore-based Stellapps is a digital farm-to-consumer platform that uses technology to track milk through its journey through the supply chain.

“We have a device that looks like a Fitbit for cattle,” says Ranjith Mukundan, co-founder and CEO of Stellapps. The company’s “mooON” device “goes around the animal’s paw, and [tracks] their activity levels,” he says.

When cows are sick, they move less, and when they are ovulating, they move more, says Mukundan. Stellapps combines information from step trackers with data that farmers and veterinarians enter into a smartphone app, which issues reminders for routine protocols such as vaccinations and artificial insemination. Healthier cows produce more milk, and by better monitoring and managing their animals, farmers can increase yields, says Mukundan.

But Stellapps doesn’t just create step counters: the mooON device is just a small part of a much larger initiative to transform the world’s largest dairy industry with smart technology.

Dairy scanning

Founded in 2011, Stellapps’ technology is currently used by nearly three million dairy farmers in 36,000 villages in India, producing more than 13.5 million liters of milk daily, according to Mukundan.

In October 2021, the company raised $18 million, led by Dutch animal nutrition company Nutreco, which joined existing investors including the Gates Foundation and Blume Ventures.

In India, farmers usually deliver the milk to collection points in nearby villages. Here, Stellapps uses an ultrasonic analyzer to measure the nutritional content of milk, which enables standardized pricing and gives farmers updates on the health and nutritional needs of their cows.

The company measures the volume of milk collected using a digital scale and transfers payments directly to farmers’ bank accounts via its “mooPay” platform.

Milk of similar quality is then combined into digitally labeled 40 liter jugs and sent to a larger centralized cold storage unit. At the unit, volume sensors monitor the milk to prevent it from being diluted or stolen, says Mukundan. From there, the milk is taken to a processing plant to be pasteurized and packaged, or made into products like cheese or yogurt.

Mukundan says Stellapps can bring traceability to the Indian dairy industry, allowing the company to “guarantee for every glass of milk”.

India is the largest dairy producer in the world and companies like Stellapps hope to make it more efficient through technology.

A fragmented industry

India is home to the largest dairy industry in the world, producing 199 million metric tons in 2021.
But dairy hasn’t always been a staple in India, which depended on milk imports until 1970, when a rural development program called “Operation Flood” overhauled the industry.

This has made milk more affordable, providing a good source of protein and reducing poverty in rural communities, says Thanammal Ravichandran, dairy economist and program manager for dairy at food producer ABT Foods. The program has also transformed India into a “milk exporting country”.

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But despite its size, India’s dairy industry is still fragmented and largely under-industrialized, says Ravichandran. About 80% of dairy animals in India are owned by smallholders who own only two to three cows. In contrast, the average dairy herd size in the United States was 296 cows in 2020.
On small Indian farms, productivity is often low, adds Ravichandran. On average, dairy cows in India produced five liters per day in 2019, compared to over 30 liters per day for the top dairy cows in the United States.
Stellapps is not the only Indian startup keen to modernize the industry with smart technology. Like Stellapps, Prompt has created cow pedometers to monitor health and reproductive cycles, and Ravichandran points to Farmtree by Inhof Technologies, which uses data to determine the efficiency and value of small farms, and Herdman by Vetware, which offers a subscription model to track data for over one million animals. “Data can help transform the industry,” she says.
The step tracker is tamper-proof and Stellapps says it could help insurers identify and monitor cows.

An expanding platform

Stellapps does not charge farmers for its technology and advisory services. Instead, it monetizes its product through cooperatives that buy the milk and additional service providers, such as insurance and animal nutrition companies.

Mukundan says the company is also considering the retail side of the supply chain. He is developing a portal that maps the origin and journey of milk, which he says will appeal to quality-conscious consumers.

By bringing more dairy farms to the platform, Mukundan hopes to improve farmers’ lives while making Indian dairy products tastier and more nutritious.

“Consumers are willing to pay more so that when they give it to their children at home, they are absolutely convinced that it is the best possible milk,” he says.

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