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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management
Saturday, July 13, 2024

Identity Management – for Cows?

Author: Mark Dixon
Saturday, May 14, 2005
5:05 pm

Last night, I accompanied two of my three sons and a 20-month-old grandson on a Fathers and Sons campout sponsored by our church. We had a wonderful time in the woods northeast of
Payson, Arizona.
As we drove to the campsite, I recalled the first time I became aware of a business application for Identity. Perhaps it could be called Bovine Identity.

I grew up on a small dairy farm in southern
When our dairy herd once swelled to 75 cows, I thought we were in the big time! But such a herd is miniscule when compared to the multi-thousand-cow herds that are commonplace today.

Dad knew each of his cows by name. Each cow had a unique identity. His favorite practice was naming a cow after the wife of a farmer from whom he had bought the cow. If multiple cows were involved, he’d name the cows after the farmer’s daughters.

One such cow was named Claudia, after a local farmer’s daughter. Soon before I got married, Dad decided to switch business models and sold all his cows – except one, Claudia, who would provide the family milk for a few years. I think it no coincidence that Dad chose to keep the cow who shared its name with my wife Claudia, a pretty city girl who was amused and intrigued by some of our interesting rural traditions.

In the dairy business, it is crucial that each cow be known individually. Each has a unique capacity for milk production. Attributes such as milk produced per day, milk-fat content, length of productive milking cycle, gestation cycle and offspring produced can be tracked and leveraged for the benefit of the dairy business. Indeed, one of the first commercial computer companies I learned about was Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI), based in Provo, Utah. This company provided a service to help dairy farmers individually track the performance of cows in a herd. High producing cows are retained, not only for their milk production capacity, but for their potential of giving birth to other high-production offspring. Lower-producing cows are culled out. In the dairy business, Identity is literally a life or death proposition (for the cows) that can help dairy operations progressively become more efficient and profitable.

In the early 1980’s, I worked for Eyring Research Institute, a small Utah company located just down the street from DHI. Our company was engaged to produce a physical access control system for the United Airlines Maintenance and Operations facility at the San Francisco airport. One critical system component was a badge reader system developed by Schlage. Each employee’s badge contained a uniquely-tuned electronic circuit which could be identified by a badge reader if the badge was held within six inches of the reader. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) was alive and well in 1980, if only in a primitive state!

However, as we investigated this new badge reader technology, we learned that one of its earliest applications was with cows, not people. In a dairy operation much larger and more sophisticated than the Dixon farm, the Schlage devices were used to identify individual dairy cows. A badge was hung around each cow’s neck so that when she entered the milking parlor (yes, they are called parlors) to be milked, a badge reader would identify the cow, trigger an automatic system to record her production for that session, and meter out the right mixture of feed and nutritional supplements calculated to maximize her productivity. Bovine Identity was being leveraged in a real-world business case!

Identity Management is really about understanding and managing the unique Identities of people or things. In my work at Sun, we have primarily focused on managing the identities of people – not cows. However, realizing that Identity Management can extend much more broadly can help us to keep our eyes open for unique opportunities and challenges.


One Response to “Identity Management – for Cows?”

    A great example of applied identity management! Incidentally, in the largely rural county (Wiltshire) where I live, I remember seeing a van parked beside a field: on the side panel was a sign reading “The Pig Improvement Company”. I understand what you mean about livestock enhancement, but at the time I had a great mental image of someone conducting porcine seminars on art appreciation, literary criticism and perhaps even gastronomy… ;^)

    Comment by Robin Wilton on May 16, 2005 at 7:12 am

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