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Four Ways Digitalization is Changing Livestock

Precision farming techniques have been applied to real farms for decades but as digital advancements bring it into the mainstream, it’s become the latest buzzword in livestock farming.

As farms traditional health and welfare strategies used by farmers, such as visual checks, are getting a digital makeover. Technology provides a way to achieve the same goal through ‘smart’ solutions, enabling farmers to enhance their operations across health and welfare.

We take a look at some of the ways industry is using technology to help improve farming practices in a growing world.

Greater nutrition transparency

Getting nutrition right is essential for livestock production. It can often be the highest outgoing cost for farmers, so they need nutrition to work hard for them to see a return on investment.

Yet, variability in the quality of feed raw materials can be difficult to detect until it’s affected the animal’s performance, or at worst, contributed to ill health.

New mobile near-infrared devices are enabling farmers to better monitor exactly what is in their feed and troubleshoot issues early. The devices scan samples of the feed and send the nutritional information direct to the farmer’s mobile phone, giving them access to nutritional information while onsite, whether that’s in the field, in the facility or in the farm house in real time.

It can provide a more dynamic way of controlling feed quality than traditional methods, which often require the farmer to send samples to be tested in a lab, an expensive and lengthy exercise.

These new capabilities give farmers better control of their feed to confidently rear healthy animals, and predict production and profitability for their farms.

Digitalizing body composition score

Body composition score, or BCS, is a visual evaluation farmers use to determine where a sow is in her reproductive stage and understand her wellbeing.

Researchers have developed a mobile phone solution to bring it into the digital age, making the process more consistent, objective and enabling data collection over a longer period of time, rather than just as a one-off measurement. Simply inputting the usual measurements digitally, these can be added to farm management software and shared with the veterinarian to better care for the animals.

Tackling respiratory diseases on pig farms

On swine farms, pigs are vulnerable to respiratory issues, which farmers would once monitor by listening out for a symptomatic cough. But farms are noisy places with animals and equipment moving around, making it difficult to detect abnormal coughs in a sea of sound.

Researchers are exploring how sound diagnostic tools can be the ears for the farmers where sound monitoring is a challenge. These pieces of kit use acoustic sensors to listen out for abnormalities, such as pigs coughing. They also measure other factors in the barn linked to respiratory health, such as temperature and humidity, which is relayed back to the farmer digitally.

Research shows these devices may be able to detect issues up to two weeks earlier than conventional methods.

Remote herd health tracking

Animal trackers, such as those used on cows, have developed considerably, enabling farmers to access detailed data from their mobile phone to track animals, disease and improve export welfare.

Trackers once simply helped farmers control how much cattle moved around. Today’s ‘connected cows’ use RFID tags, which identify and register each animal to a farmer and track their location, creating significant efficiencies for herds grazing across large distances.

It also means recording herd health is more manageable and detailed. Unusual or slow movements in cattle can indicate illness. Additionally, the technology enables farmers to easily record health management events, such as vaccinations or diseases, for each individual animal using their mobile phones. When combined with location technology, it enables farmers and veterinarians to monitor disease and act more quickly to any outbreaks.

It’s clear that digitalization opens up a field of possibilities to enhancing animal health and wellbeing, offering new opportunities for farms of the future. These technologies give us insight into what the ‘new normal’ could look like.

 Like this? Read our interview with Professor Tomas Norton, expert in livestock digitalization.