Modern day dairy farming: The road towards sustainability

The Past

Some of you may remember this: Years ago, when you wanted to get to a place you’ve never driven to before you would plan the journey. A roadmap would be used: Quite accurate when printed, but using old information not adapted to individual needs. You would first identify the destination on the map using an index. Then different routes would need to be considered, stops along the way planned. You might even consult a table showing estimated travel times to approximate how long it would take you to get there. Then you’d set off, never quite sure how it long it would take you, hoping to reach the place you want; and of course you’d be consulting the roadmap along the way – hoping the map would still be correct. 

The present and future

Today, the dairy industry is on the road towards sustainability: There is increasing demand for milk production being more efficient in terms of nutrients and greenhouse gas emissions; and every farm has to question itself whether its journey to sustainability is the optimal one. Data has always been used in dairy farming to assess the profitability and management of a farm. Today, data is used to determine whether a farm makes optimal use of its resources, and this is the way to achieve sustainability.  Often, however, farmers use only historical data which means using information from the past. Averages are commonly used: Average calving interval, average milk per cow per day, average feed efficiency. This is just like using an old roadmap and you can’t trust it a 100%; you are never sure whether your road towards sustainability is the most optimal one. Nowadays, you can do better than that!  

There are data driven tools that help you reach the ultimate goal of modern dairy farming: Sustainability. The advent of artificial intelligence changes everything and makes the trip towards sustainability so much easier. Dairy farming is the place to use Big Data technology. The lifecycle of animals and milk production can be measured and needs to be monitored closely along the way. Data is crucial to successfully achieve this. The new technology of Big Data is quickly adapted in our industry; it provides more information and insights into the efficiency, animal welfare and sustainability of milk production. Clever usage of this ever-increasing amount of dairy data can help us and the information can be processed by means of artificial intelligence. Moreover, It can make the life of a dairy farmer easier too.

The road map of the old days was a help; it did not, however, guarantee a timely and efficient trip. Artificial intelligence does, in contrast, not only process information; it adapts it to our needs. In real time, it helps us to avoid trouble along the way, shows the most efficient and quickest way towards our destination, in this case:  Making milk production more sustainable. 

Using data in dairy farming for a more sustainable future

The dairy industry is crucial for the future of our planet and human society. It is expected to significantly increase its production to provide high quality food. The dairy industry must ensure growing global demands are being met by farmers. At the same time, producers need to be cautious of demands to feed the world more efficiently both in a sustainable manner as well as economically. What do we mean when we say more sustainable? Resources are used most efficiently; energy isn’t wasted, and carbon footprint kept as low possible. Data is key in achieving this and the technology of Big Data can provide the necessary insights. There are numerous examples how this can be achieved on dairy farms: 

  • AI tools can forecast milk production of individual animals and the whole herd. It identifies animals with the highest future production and predicts the quantity of milk that will be produced by the farm. That way, the herd can be steered towards optimal use of resources, shortages and costly overproduction is avoided.  

  • Big Data helps to plan reproduction and foresees the herd dynamics. The farm only raises as many animals as are actually needed. AI can steer your replacement policy, tell you which animals you need to inseminate and how many. Precious labour, feeding and emissions are saved. 

  • Udder health should be optimal and watched carefully in real time, as mastitis means production loss. Artificial intelligence (AI) helps us watch out for mastitis before it appears, identifies risk animals and brings treatment down. Thus, AI allows us to intervene long before mastitis negatively affects production. 

  • Diseases of livestock should be prevented rather than treated, as treatment is just a repair of damage that has already happened. The tools of AI analyse individual risk factor and predict whether an animal is likely to experience transition cow disease even before the dry period. That way real prevention can be applied, feeding adapted and animals being managed accordingly. This increases animal welfare, reduces treatment and ensures sustainability (Learn more here)

In Conclusion

As milk production is a long-term process, producers and manufacturers alike need insights into the long-term trends, so they are able to plan the work accordingly; artificial intelligence shows us what to expect and what to plan for.  Dairy farming today isn’t about hitting the road with an old roadmap; it is planning the investments as carefully as possible, identifying risks as early as possible and to make sustainability as easy as possible. The application of Big Data principles is about putting existing data into a bigger perspective and creating insights for the future. The dairy industry is ideal for applying artificial intelligence; there is a lot of information that can be used in a better way. The tools are there and ready to use at every step of the dairy industry chain. Even if farmers are not using the available information now it is being made much easier for them; interpretation of data is taken over by artificial intelligence and time isn’t wasted looking at numbers, but rather acting on the basis of the information it provides. This means moving forward quicker, reaching the goal earlier: A dairy industry that is truly achieving sustainability.  

This blog was written by Dr. Joachim Lubbo Kleen. Owner of Cow Consult.