June 23, 2022
US startup creates device that tests cow milk in less than 10 seconds
US startup Labby is aiming to help farmers get a clearer picture of their cows' health with a device that can test milk from individual cows in less than 10 seconds.
Labby's device sits at the front of an analytics platform that can help farmers detect diseases before they spread to the rest of the herd. Down the line, it could also give veterinarians historical health data on specific animals, help dairy farmers identify best practices and allow farmers to increase transparency with consumers.
"Everyone understands the power of data to improve health," said Labby chief executive officer Julia Somerdin, who co-founded the company with former MIT Media Lab postdoc Anshuman Das. "It's just like how home care and [data collection devices] for humans have transformed health care."
Somerdin and Das' time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) helped them identify dairy farming as an area where their technology could make a big impact.
Labby uses an optical sensing technology and artificial intelligence to monitor milk quality and disease in real time. MilkKey by Labby's platform can detect levels of milk fat and protein of each small batch of milk to help farmers and vets keep cows healthy. The company's scanner employs mobile spectroscopy, which can also get information on somatic cell count (SCC). Higher SCC levels indicate mastitis or an infection that farmers can treat before it spreads or worsens.
The conventional process for monitoring cow health and milk quality is time-consuming and expensive. As a result, Somerdin said most farmers only run some tests once a month. The lack of monitoring can lead to the spread of diseases like mastitis, a painful infection that also lowers milk quality.
"Mastitis is the most common and costly disease in dairy farming," Somerdin said. "Mastitis is contagious and hard to detect, so it very easily spreads to the rest of the herd."
Labby has been working with US farms in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts since 2019, although the pandemic slowed down the company's plans to scale. Labby also sells its devices to universities and companies interested in studying the data it is collecting.
"Everyone wants more data, especially at the individual cow level, but that's been really hard to get up until now," Somerdin said.
This spring, three MIT graduate students will spend a week on Labby's partner farms in Pennsylvania as part of company-sponsored research with the goal of improving the design of the product and making it more practical for farms around the world.
Down the line, Labby wants its platform to help with community-building in the dairy farming industry.
"We're a hardware company, but we see data as the key to our solution," Somerdin said. "We want to become a milk quality certification platform, which will improve confidence in the industry and for the consumer.
"In the industry, farmers can better maintain animal health and buyers will know they're picking up milk from the highest quality farms with good milk. And for the consumer, increased transparency allows farmers to communicate with the public and prove they're treating their animals well."