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HOHHOT -- February nights on the prairie in Angsu village are piercing cold, but herder Bixirlt does not mind.
Rather than getting up several times to look after his sheep, the 40-year old stretched and yawned, turned over in bed, and used his phone to check on the animals.
Eight cameras Bixirlt bought last year help the family monitor the 2,200-square-meter sheepfold. A long-focus camera is able to spot thieves and fires within 5 km.
"The sheep are about to give birth, so we must keep a close eye on them," Bixirlt 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 village in Ordos, Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
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 six 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.
The villagers don"t take the technology for granted. Over the past decade, WiFi has become an ordinary amenity in most of China, but not for sparsely populated pastoral areas. Some places still lack cell phone signal.
Bixirlt"s family was not connected to the Internet until the second half of 2017, and some nearby villages just began laying 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 Han sheep. By selling the cross-bred lambs, he can earn 200,000 yuan ($31,580) a year.
He also assisted researchers with embryo transfer in sheep and set up an association dedicated to breeding and promotion of high quality Dorper sheep.
Now one-third of the 270-plus families in Angsu village are equipped with advanced technology such as solar power central heating systems and automatic troughs.
"We"re relieved from heavy herding and can 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.