February nights on the prairie in Angsu village are piercingly cold, but herder Bixirlt does not mind. Rather than getting up several times to check on his sheep, he just turns over in bed and uses his smartphone to check.
Eight cameras Bixirlt bought last year help the family monitor 2,200 square meters in Ordos, Inner Mongolia autonomous region. A long-focus camera is able to spot fires and thieves within 5 kilometers.
"The sheep are about to give birth, so we must keep a close eye on them," Bixirlt, 40, said.
Technology has saved shepherds like Bixirlt time and energy in taking care of their livestock, the main source of income for nomads in Angsu.
By pressing a button, fodder and water can be delivered automatically, and "smart" fences keep the livestock in order. A remote-controlled irrigation system can water more than 6 hectares of grassland.
"We used to spend much of the day feeding the animals, now it can be finished in less than two hours," he said.
Villagers don"t take the technology for granted. Over the past decade, Wi-Fi has become an ordinary amenity in most parts of China, but not for sparsely populated pastoral areas. Some places still lack a cellphone signal.
Bixirlt"s family was not connected to the internet until the second half of last year, and some nearby villages just began installing cables this year.
Freed from time-consuming daily work, Bixirlt has put more effort into studying crossbreeding and artificial insemination. He buys high-quality Dorper sheep to mate with local small-tail Hans. By selling the crossbred lambs, he can earn 200,000 yuan ($31,580) a year.
He has also assisted researchers with embryo transfer in sheep, and set up an association dedicated to breeding and promoting high-quality Dorper sheep.
Today, one-third of the 270-plus families in Angsu are equipped with advanced technology such as solar power central heating systems and automatic troughs.
"We"re relieved from heavy herding and have more time to work in tourism," said Mengkbaryal, whose homestay business made 1 million yuan last year.
He is applying for a trademark and qualifications to sell dairy products. "I plan to put our products online so more people can enjoy the special treats of the grassland," he said.
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