Throughout history, farmers have adopted the latest technological advances to better manage and maintain their land and livestock. Today, digital innovations are enabling farmers to look at how they raise their animals in entirely new ways. But new technology isn’t just about improving efficiency – it is also helping make a huge difference to the health and well-being of our farm animals.
Here are four cutting-edge innovations that are improving the lives of farmers and their animals:
1. Smartphone Apps
In the past couple of years there has been a proliferation of health apps for your smartphone to monitor both your fitness and well-being – as many as 325,000 were available in 2017- and the number is growing at a rate of 25% year on year. For farmers, this trend has led to the development of applications that help them to better care for their farm animals.
The BCS CowDition app, for example, helps farmers to accurately measure the body condition of dairy cows and detect possible metabolic diseases early, with just a few snapshots of each animal. The BCS SowDition app helps pig farmers with similar challenges, enabling them to easily store, track and analyze their sow and herd health objectively in one tool. These apps synchronize with farm management software to provide an overview of the entire herd and its health status, as well as the individual animals, further simplifying farmer-veterinarian consultation.
In East Africa, VetAfrica-Ethiopia (VAE) helps farmers and veterinarians to diagnose livestock on the spot, receive information on proper medication to be administered, and share information through cloud software so that illnesses can be tracked and monitored.
2. Drone Technology
The use of drones in agriculture is not new – they have been used to monitor crops for more than a decade. More recently, drones have been increasingly useful in livestock farming too. With the help of a drone, a farmer can keep a closer eye than ever before on the health of their animals while they are grazing. Drones can help farmers identify everything from newborns that have become separated from their mothers, to the state of the farm’s water systems, and the overall condition of the pasture.
Combining infrared sensors and multi-spectrum high-definition cameras, the latest drones continuously capture real-time images and video of herds and flocks no matter the season. Ranchers in the United States, for example, have found that drones give them the ability to check on each cow and calf in the pasture even during a snowstorm, helping keep both the cattle and the farmer safe.
Livestock farmers have been quick to embrace robotics to better manage their farms. And the technology is rapidly evolving, from automatic feeders to herder bots designed to act like robotic shepherds. These innovations can lead to an increase in yield, reduction of labor cost, and can have a big impact on animal well-being.
Automated milking robots, for example, have enabled free cow traffic, where dairy cows can be milked according to their own biorhythms. This has been found to have a positive effect on their well-being and thus on their health and milk production.
These robots can also compile a large amount of data on the animal’s health condition – assessing not just its weight, but also the quality of its milk (such as the fat and protein content), and rumination activity.
4. Precision Livestock Farming
The digital agriculture revolution has brought big data to the field and now livestock farmers are increasingly using the technology to better care for their animals. Precision livestock farming uses biosensors and machine-to-machine technology to continuously and automatically monitor the health, productivity and reproduction of livestock.
These integrated systems allow farm animals to be observed 24/7 through a wide variety of monitoring devices and sensors that are becoming increasingly affordable and advanced. These include livestock wearables such as E-tags, which clip on a cow’s ear and constantly measure body temperature, to Bluetooth-enabled sweat monitoring strips that can measure levels of sodium, potassium, and glucose in the animal.
The ability to constantly monitor the health of our farm animals means that precision livestock farming also has the potential to improve the animal’s well-being across, from animal feed suppliers to livestock transportation.