Thursday, March 14, 2019
For Arkansas political consultant Carl Vogelpohl, there has never been a better time to lead his dual passions at the same time: herding a tribe of goats at Split Rail Farms in Perry County while also directing his political campaign from his laptop or tablet set on a field rock.
Fully realizing that vision would require heavy reliance on IoT devices, and certainly an ample, reliable Internet provision, Vogelpohl knows in his profession his “eyes and ears” are everything.
“My joke to clients is that I’m literally staying grounded tending my flock with a Bluetooth headset and fast Wi-Fi connection while leading high-level boardroom meetings at state capitols or maybe in Washington,” he says.
Vogelpohl is the founder and president of Split Rail Consulting, a full-service strategic campaign and data analytics consultancy that’s handled state and federal campaigns, as well as Arkansas ballot issues. (The enterprise is the namesake of the farm, not vice-versa.)
For now, the goats are largely tended by Vogelpohl as a part-time goatherd with the assistance of his father, who lives next door on a 300-acre farm, with the aid of stationary sentries — the “Goat Cams.”
Vogelpohl has invested in a half-dozen commercial-grade pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras with night vision and 5x-20x zoom and two-way audio. They’re networked, and an app lets him interface from anywhere he has a signal.
“It’s always interesting to watch the goats. Even remotely, their personalities shine and it’s easy to tell if everything is okay with the herd. They have a specific order when the herd moves — for example, going out to pasture or coming in, there’s a specific hierarchy. If you see the lead goat not in the lead, something’s wrong.”
The farm breeds and sells about 60-70 kids each year at auction in nearby Beebe — much of it bought by a high-volume halal butcher in Memphis. Goat is a red meat popular in other places, but not here. Immigration and shifting food fashions, though, have raised its profile and its consumption. Goats can also be milked for cheese, grazed strategically for land management, and have “pretty good little personalities,” Vogelpohl says. Each kid fetches $80-$200 depending on market conditions — holy days such as Easter and Eid elevate demand — so Vogelpohl manages the 15-acre hircine ranch to serve those markets.
Goats aren’t as helpless as sheep or chickens, but they’re not invulnerable. For a time, the ranch was losing kids. “We couldn’t figure it out for the longest time. We just kept watching the Goat Cam. It’s the closest thing I can do to becoming a full-time shepherd.” Turns out, a neighbor’s dog was picking off the wee ones like a wolf.
Birthing can also be deadly. During kidding season, when he can’t be on-site, Vogelpohl watches the new mothers closely. Normally, it’s a happy view with newborn kids bouncing behind mothers, but time can be critical if something goes wrong. Once on an airplane back from Washington, he brought up the Goat Cam over the plane’s Wi-Fi in time to see a mother struggling in labor; he reached out to his father, who was able to hurry over and help save both mother and kid.
“That’s what I mean about having a stable network. This is real-time.”
The Internet of Things in agriculture, he says, is going to change his operation. The Vogelpohls plant a vegetable garden each spring, and today, wireless monitoring stations exist to gauge a range of conditions such as temperature, soil moisture, nitrogen and other growth factors, then direct automatic sprinklers and applicators to initiate — all without human intervention.
The critical component, he says, is a responsive rural Internet service provider, and Kinetic Business by Windstream’s customer service “has been huge.”
“The one thing that’s a really big deal is reliability. I’ve had the cameras go down before because, actually, the router failed, and being able to pick up the phone and call a human being at Kinetic Business and have them solve my problem quickly is so satisfying,” he says.
“I’ve now built this business based on electronic automation. I mean, it’s a farming operation — you wouldn’t think of Kinetic Business or the network as my farm equipment. But as a 21st century shepherd, I’m flying blind without it.”
The Vogelpohls have been Windstream customers for at least five years. Sharon Vogelpohl is the principal and president for MHP/Team SI and has been a Windstream vendor since 2018.
 The extended Vogelpohl family maintains riding stables, raises pasture pork and heritage Galloway cattle, and farms vegetables.