by Cheryl Kepes
Photos courtesy Brent and Sharlyn Sieck, and Abby D Photography
Brent and Sharlyn Sieck bring their dream of an innovative cattle heat detection and notification system to life.
Born and raised in the cattle industry, Brent and Sharlyn Sieck know well the ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of a life devoted to developing a thriving cow herd. However, the Siecks, owners of a longstanding cattle operation near Lincoln, Neb., never dreamed their involvement in the agriculture industry would lead them to the path they traverse today.
For the past five years the couple has navigated an entrepreneurial journey working to create, manufacture, and market a heat detection system for cow herds. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to the Siecks that they became inventors and innovators. It’s simply in their nature. “We are kind of do-it-yourselfers. I put in my own embryos, and I do our own c-sections and things like that,” Brent Sieck said. Brent’s wife, Sharlyn, agreed, “We are a find-a-way, make-a-way kind of people.”
The saying, necessity is the mother of invention, rings true for the Siecks. Brent and Sharlyn wanted to find a more effective and convenient way to catch their cows in heat. They were frustrated with all times they were forced to choose between being at their farm checking for heat or making it to family obligations. “Being tardy to a kid’s activity, or sometimes missing it completely because of heat checking was a reality for Brent,” Sharlyn Sieck explained. “But the tipping point was when our best donor was in heat, but we kept missing it. Brent really wanted to find a more efficient way to heat check.”
Idea Takes Shape
Their desire for a better way led the Siecks to brainstorm ideas. One Sunday morning, while reading the business section of the local paper, Brent came across a story that caught his attention. An area business was developing mats equipped with embedded sensors to place at the entrances of hog units. When a person stepped on the mat, the sensors sent a signal to the producers to alert them someone had entered their facility.
The idea of a pressure triggered sensor sparked Brent’s interest. The Siecks reached out to the company developing the mats and the heat detection system slowly started to take shape. “We went through several different changes to come up with what we have now – but that is how that idea started. It was from me reading the paper,” Brent shared.
The idea endured years of development and testing. Numerous prototypes, trial and error, and meticulous finetuning ultimately led to the HeatSiecker heat detection system. The HeatSiecker system, named with a nod to its creators, allows producers to have access to real-time mount detection via a phone app.
A patch equipped with a sensor is applied to the cow with special adhesive. The pressure applied to the sensor when a cow is mounted causes the sensor to send a signal to an antenna which transfers the information to an app. The number of mounts and timing are at the producers’ fingertips, eliminating the need to constantly check for heat visually.
The antenna can receive signals from the patches from one to two miles away without a clear line of sight. If the antenna has cell service, the producer will receive the mounting information, regardless of whether the cow wearing the patch is within range of cell service. The system does not require Wi-Fi.
Testing the Product
The Siecks developed multiple prototypes of the patch, adhesive, and system before they arrived at the product that’s on the market today. The company the Siecks work with to develop part the HeatSiecker system, assisted with the rigorous testing of products. The patch, sensors, and batteries were run through a machine to test their resilience in extreme temperatures. The antennas endured significant testing as well. Additionally, the Siecks experimented with several adhesives before landing on the most effective glue.
When the Siecks decided the HeatSiecker products were ready for testing on a cow herd, they started close to home. “Our very first testing was on our own herd and on a neighbor that was close so we could monitor that,” Brent explained. “Once we had things going in the direction we wanted, we actually sent out 1,000 patches one fall and gave them to several producers in five or six different states.” Dispersing the system to a variety of geographical locations across the country allowed the Siecks to track the performance of the system in different climates and environments.
Brent and Sharlyn are the first to admit they are not technology gurus. However, they are savvy at finding and connecting with experts to help them reach their goals. Due to advancements in technology, the Siecks were able to capitalize on new ways for producers to access the heat detection information that would not have been possible in the past. According to the HeatSiecker website, “When a cow is in heat, and other cows mount her, the patch senses the pressure and that individual cow’s data is sent from the HeatSiecker Gateway Antenna to the customer’s cell phone. The producer can prioritize insemination based on real-time data and detect the perfect breeding window.”
Manufacturing the Product
A majority of the HeatSiecker products are manufactured at the Siecks’ farm in Martell, Neb. The rest of the system is made elsewhere in Nebraska and in the United States. The Siecks want to keep all aspects of the business as local as possible.
Four part-time employees work alongside Brent and Sharlyn to manufacture the HeatSiecker patches. “Many of the steps are done by us personally and some within a 50-mile radius of our farm,” Brent stated. “We have had custom machines made specifically for our manufacturing so that we do not have to outsource production.” The couple personally packages and ships all orders.
The Siecks converted half of their barn, previously used to store farm machinery, to house the lasers, welders, and other equipment needed to manufacture the patches. The HeatSiecker patches are created and assembled in the remodeled section of the building. The other half of the barn remains calving pens.
Manufacturing the product adjacent to their cattle operation serves as an inspiration and motivation to the Siecks. From the beginning of their journey until now, their goal has been to create a system to benefit fellow cattle producers.
The HeatSiecker system launched in full force in January 2022. Since that time producers in 30 states have purchased the system. “It has been so satisfying knowing we are able to help people just like us,” Sharlyn shared. “We have enjoyed hearing success stories and look forward to many more. We have been blessed with the best customers.”
Positive feedback from their customers fuels the Siecks to continue moving forward with their business. The desire they had five years ago to come up with a solution to their ongoing dilemma, has now become a reality for them and others in the cattle industry. “We used to go out with a spotlight at 10 o’clock at night and try to check cows and see what was going on and we don’t have to do that anymore,” Brent said. “We have had several people say, ‘We were at our kids’ ballgame and got several notices on our phone.” Sharlyn added, “I think the exact quote was, ‘This is so cool! I’m at my daughter’s basketball game and I can see what cow is in heat.’”
The years of working on the HeatSiecker system has consumed much of Brent and Sharlyn’s time but their dedication to managing their cow herd has never wavered. Well-known in the cattle industry for their champion club calves, the Siecks have started to transition their cow herd to focus on maternal genetics. They manage around 300 head of momma cows specializing in Maine, Maintainer, Simmental, and low-percentage Simmental cattle.
Surprises Along the Way
Even with all their years in the cattle business, the Siecks were surprised with some of the data collected with the HeatSiecker system. “There is so much that happens at night – it is amazing,” Brent explained. “I had a guy who worked at ABS for 30 years breeding cows and he started using our system and he said, ‘I learned more about cows coming in heat in one breeding season than I have in the last 30 years in all my experiences.’”
What surprised some producers, including Brent, was how much activity occurs at night and how frequently a cow gets mounted. “There is just a lot that a guy misses – there is so much that goes on that you don’t know,” Brent said. “It is amazing how many times those cows get mounted. The record right now that we know of so far is 176 times. But that’s not typical. However, it is not uncommon for it to be a 100 or a little more. Especially when cows are synchronized because then you have a lot more going on at once.”
Future of HeatSiecker
As the Siecks reflect on their journey, their hearts overflow with gratitude. “We are thankful to our family and friends for their support,” Brent and Sharlyn expressed. “We are appreciative to those involved with HeatSiecker who are experts in areas we are not and for their willingness to help us. Thanks goes out to our investors and bankers for believing in us, and to our customers who buy our product.”
The Siecks look forward to what the future holds for their business, while cherishing the blessings along the way. “We are grateful God planted the seed to start this business and for the path he has guided us through this venture,” Brent and Sharlyn shared.
The task of developing the heat detection and notification system seems to be in the Siecks’ rearview mirror. Nonetheless, much work remains. The Siecks now forge forward, blazing a trail for the future of their business never losing their “find-a-way, make-a-way” spirit.
learn more at heatsiecker.com