Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) has the potential to address societal concerns related to animal welfare, lower the environmental burden of production and utilise natural resources more efficiently. This use case focuses on the development of a range of cloud-based services that promote the implementation of precision dairy management with initial focus on health and the reproduction of cows. An early warning system harnessing real-time data pro-actively alerts the farmer on any emerging issues on an individual cow basis. Furthermore, the Herdsman+ platform enables the integration of all on-farm data, generates enriched insights which not only yield value to the farmer but is shared with a range of stakeholders to inform on the optimisation of the supply chain.
Increasing animal welfare through IoT
Collar based activity sensors are in common use as a means of detecting oestrus with the goal of optimising the fertility of individual dairy animals and hence milk yield. The self-same acceleration-derived signals have been processed to detect the time spent ruminating and eating, the basis to derive an insight on animal welfare.
Latterly, the University of Strathclyde team has enhanced further the value of the system through providing a quantifiable measure of the time duration that an animal shows signs of heat stress, enabled by the development of an additional artificial intelligence algorithm. Heat stress has a significant impact on both animal welfare and productivity and an unbiased measure of the level of stress guides intervention decisions that maintain health and well-being.
The use case has proven the feasibility of delivering cloud-based precision services that bring increased levels of production efficiencies to the dairy and potentially the beef farming sectors. A core system within the Herdsman+ platform are neck-mounted smart collars, data gathering engines comprising advanced software embedded on the collars yielding accurate levels of activity, time spent eating and time spent ruminating. These three key outputs are ‘windows’ to animal behaviour that gate the provisioning of accurate alerts, indicating the onset of heat as well as illness. Integrating the combination of these parameters with other on-farm systems generating additional data such as from milking robots, automatic feeders enhances the commercial benefits as more specific conditions can be identified such as the onset of key illnesses such as mastitis and ketosis - both are known to significantly impair productivity - in advance of developing into a critical state.
Calving interval (days)
The art of animal husbandry centres on regualr inspection of animal health, wellbeing and productivity and in turn responding through an informed measure to treat the condition in a timely manner. This management is still largely executed by humans using knowledge and skills acquired over many years. However, traditional visual inspection practices albeit highly effective in the past, are difficult to scale as in many parts of the world farming concerns are becoming larger to remain profitable. Furthermore skilled labour is difficult to secure placing an increasing burden on the sector. The Herdsman+ decision support platform promotes the implementation of precision farm management by focusing the valuable time of farmer onto animals that require most attention.
Animal wellbeing is at the beginning of a chain that links farmer profitability, product quality, consumer satisfaction and environmental sustainability. The rationale is that if the needs of animals are properly understood and satisfied at the individual level, then the needs of farmers and downstream stakeholders including consumers follow. The more precisely the needs are met, the less waste in the system, resulting in greater environmental benefit. The ’Herdsman+ integration platform is the basis for a highly scalable and functional decision support platform that assists in securing a sustainable food supply internationally.
The smart collar platform components
The smart neck-mounted collar is an exemplar of an on-farm system that can be integrated within the Herdsman+ platform. The collar unit consists of an electronic box harnessed to a collar around the neck of a cow, recording individual neck movements continuously using a 3-axis accelerometer, similar to devices at the heart of consoles used in gaming.
The measured movement data is processed on-collar using artificial intelligence software able to accurately identify changes from normal activity behaviour in the cow, e.g. the onset of heat. A heat event is downloaded wirelessly whenever a cow enters the receiving area of a base station, located either within the field, or within the milking parlour. A router within a control box enables additional base stations to be added to the network to increase coverage. Alerts are displayed on a local computer or on a cloud nevironment enabling the farmer to schedule insemination more precisely. Accurate heat detection significantly increases the likelihood of pregnancy, which in turn leads to increased milk yields and in turn profits.
Milk fat content
Milk protein content
Each collar determines normal behaviour patterns and alerts the farmer of cow conditions only when there is an indication of a high degree of confidence that intervention is required. Rigorous validation indicates that the signature algorithm predicts with an accuracy of 95% of all oestrus events, including some that on visual inspection, are not demonstrably displayed by the cow. The standalone neck-mounted collar system comprises collars plus a base station and industrial-grade computer. Additional elements allow the farmer or service provider to access the data remotely through a service hub and the information is presented through multiple channles, a smartphone being preferred. A distinct differentiator is the implementation of the model software directly on the collar, which results in a profound reduction of the volume of data required to be downloaded to the application. The solution generates alerts, only transmitted at critical periods. The net gain with such an approach is scalability as the system can manage herd sizes of more than 1000 animals, deployment adaptability to service various farm environments, operating lifetime is in excess of 7 years without the need for battery change and lastly it can be reprogrammed/updated through the cloud. The use of a router allows further scalability in terms of coverage, withthe platform able to connect to existing wireless infrastructure. As a consequence, a number of additional extensions to the platform such as a wireless relay that connects a remote area with cattle which is located up to 3 km from the central network gateway can be readily implemented.
Since maximising milk yields and leveraging the total revenue is paramount within business management processes, highly scalable and functional technologies that assist in the adoption of precision livestock farming are crucial to the health of the sector. Farmers need to strike a balance between sustainability and the need to invest in innovative technologies to maximise returns. The use case provides evidence that adopting technology-based solutions will support the growing demand for milk by supporting the optimisation of herd performance while improving animal wellfare. Herdsman+ reduces operational spend as well as optimising operational efficiency through provisioning decision support services to farming practices thereby maximising profitability.
Achievements, products & services
Enhanced accuracy of identifying the onset of oestrus and illness conditions
Optimisation of pregnancy rates
Early treatment of illness conditions in advance of criticality
Improving animal welfare and wellbeing
Smartphone alerts about critical events
Decision support on strategies to improve production efficiency and yield