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Agritech

New Zealand agritech startup Halter has raised $29 million in Series B for a ‘cowgorithm’ to create fenceless farming

- April 27, 2021 3 MIN READ
Halter founder and CEO Craig Piggott with a dairy cow wearing Halter's smart-phone controlled collar. Photo: supplied
A New Zealand agritech startup fitting cows with GPS-enabled solar collars to “guide” cows around pastures using sound and vibrations, creating virtual fences via an app, has raised A$29 million in a series B round.

Halter says it is bridging the gap between human and animal understanding to transform farming. The series B round was led by Blackbird Ventures with participation from existing investors DCVC, Promus Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures and Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. It is one of Blackbird’s biggest initial investments in the VC firm’s history.

Halter will use the cash for expansion across Kiwi farms before taking its “cowgorithm” product global.

The collar allows farmers to shift their herd remotely and create fenceless farming, as well as being able to monitor the wellbeing of the herd, especially during breeding season.

The Halter app can detect potential health issues with the dairy herd.

Halter founder and CEO Craig Piggott said the product can save farmers considerable time in long days and removes the requirement for constant hands-on herd management.

“Farmers care so much about their animals and their land – they’re up from 4.30am till 11 o’clock at night checking on their cows and can easily work for months on end without ever leaving the farm. Farmers’ mental health statistics are shocking and I could see it was crying out for a better way,” he said.

“So I set out to create a massive shift in farming – a ground up rebuild. My question was if you started farming again, what would it look like?”

He can also see environmental benefits for a sector that’s becoming notorious in New Zealand for its impact on local waterways, with 80% of New Zealanders ranking action against declining water quality as the country’s most important environmental issue. Farmers can use Halter to prevent potential runoff into open water sources by directing herds to new locations and setting up virtual boundaries to protect waterways.

Halter also improves pasture utilisation and reduces wastage by enabling farmers to allocate the exact amount of dry matter per cow.

“I’m proud that we can revolutionise farming … production doesn’t have to be counter to the sustainability of our people, animals and land. It’s just about how you do it,” Piggott said.

Growth plans

The startup currently has 65 employees split between its Auckland HQ and pilot farm in New Zealand’s Waikato region, towards the northwest tip of the North Island. The company hopes up the head count by another 115 as the technology rolls out around Waikato at the rate of one farm a week. Installing it on half the dairy farms in the region represents $500 million in potential revenue, the company said.

While many Australians associate sheep with New Zealand, the country has transformed over the last two decades to become the world’s biggest dairy exporter, generating around NZ$20 billion in export revenue annually.

The Halter collar gathers five data points a second on every cow, which the Piggott says can offer proactive insights into the health of every animal, leveraging the data to detect subtle changes in animal behaviour that can alert farmers when a cow is on heat, lame or calving before the animal shows any visible signs.

Peter Morgan uses Halter on his farm and said: “The ability to focus on individual animals every moment of their lives means I can give them the attention that I have always wanted to.”

It also helps with the twice-daily milking routine.

“My cows arrive at the time I’ve scheduled. They turn up to the shed and I turn up to the shed – I save hours of time, with a whole layer of complication removed around organising and getting the cows in,” Morgan said.

New Zealand-based Blackbird Ventures partner Samantha Wong is joining the Halter board as part of the VC firm’s investment, calling Halter “truly transformative technology”.

“The technical breakthroughs the team have achieved not just on the hardware, but machine-learning and software, are cutting edge,” she said.

“There is huge growth potential for Halter to completely change the industry for the better.”

Dairy cattle wearing the Halter collar