Precision dairy farming – what does it mean and what’s available?

More and more data is now being collected on farms through various technological innovations. But what do we do with all this data and what technologies should we invest in? Here we present what’s available.

Precision dairy farming can be defined as the use of technologies to optimise the contribution from each animal. By taking a ‘per animal’ approach, the farmer can deliver better results in terms of higher quantities, better quality or more sustainable farming methods.

As technological advances continue, farmers are now in a position to measure and analyse a vast array of their herd’s activities that just weren’t possible previously or were too time-consuming to be worth it.

Today a farmer can monitor

-          The milk yield from every milking of every cow

-          The body condition score of every individual cow on a daily basis

-          Weight

-          Respiration rate

-          Chewing activity

-          Rumination

-          Rumen pH

-          Water consumption

-          Body temperature

-          Feed intake

-          Heart rate

-          Mastitis

-          Methane emissions from breath

-          Lameness

-          Animal position/location (GPS signals)

-          Lying/standing behaviour

-          Heat

-          Pregnancy

-          Fertility disturbances

-          Ketosis

-          Calving event

-          Sleep

It’s a long list, and while technologies are available for all of the above areas, some have come further than others in terms of precision, ease-of-use and cost.

“We should point out that precision dairy farming is still in its early stages,” says Charlotte Halén Sandgren, Dairy Development Director at DeLaval.

“Some areas are quite well developed and fine-tuned while others are kind of vague. Some cost more and some less and its not always clear which technology will give the farmer a better return on investment. Some are also more robust than others and that’s a very important factor. It’s a jungle for farmers to figure out and a very thick jungle at that.”

Hallén Sandgren does advise however that no matter how precise or developed these methods are, they should be treated as additional tools for the farmer and not the outright answer.

“The farmers that really understand their cows well are the ones that do best with precision farming. It gives them additional tools and they are interested in learning because they manage to introduce the new knowledge and use it in a beneficial way.”

In the end, precision dairy farming provides information. What to do with that information is the next step. But if done right then a farmer can improve the health and well-being of the herd, detect disease early, increase efficiency on the farm, improve the quality of the end product and minimise environmental impact. But on top of all that, the farmer can, and will save labour time.

This is the first in a series of three articles on precision dairy farming. Make sure to read our second article, "Precision Dairy Farming - the farmer's dilemma: What to do with all the data?"

More information: 

www.precisiondairyfarming.com

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