Years ago when dairy farms tended to be smaller in size, farmers knew their cows more as individuals and could therefore adjust management to get the best from each animal. Over the years, herd sizes have increased resulting in more cows being looked after by fewer staff. It therefore becomes more of a challenge to maximise the economic contribution of each animal while ensuring the highest welfare standards are met.
Current research is starting to show that this challenge can be addressed through the continued application of technology on farms, and is generally known as “precision livestock farming”. Certainly, in the case of dairy farming, the concept of precision farming is not new – auto-identification systems have allowed feed rations to be tailored to individual animals for many years.
But technology is now bringing benefits to other areas of cow management, and a good example of this is the widespread adoption of heat detection systems in recent years. The economic benefits of these systems are now well proven. Data that highlights increased cow activity can be automatically recorded and wirelessly transferred to other software systems, which provide regular alerts for the herdsman. It’s also possible for drafting gates to be automatically set, pulling out high activity cows ready for the farm’s AI technician to inspect.
At a research and development level, trials are on-going worldwide to develop other types of sensor which can monitor key biological processes from within the animal. Of course, all of this recording will produce large amounts of raw data, so the challenge is to produce software which will simplify to process of analysing and interpreting the data i.e. turning it into information that will allow better management decisions to be made in real-time.
The BrightAnimal project undertook a review of worldwide research on the use of precision livestock farming, with demonstration facilities being provided by Harper Adams University (home to the National Centre for Precision Farming).
Do you think technology will continue to bring benefits for livestock farming? – why not share your opinion below.