Dairy Focus: Technology will drive dairy industry progress

Farm Forum

Technology and increased access to data are enabling dairy farmers to make smarter day-to-day decisions to improve cow health, production and on-farm efficiencies.

Precision dairy farming is the general name given to this technology that measures and analyzes physiological, behavioral and production indicators in individual animals.

Here are some examples of precision dairy in action:

• Automated calf feeders provide nutrition for calves several times a day, adjusting for the calves’ age and enabling the cow to eat anytime. With a computer’s help, the farmer receives up-to-the-minute reports about each calf. Automated feeders can help calves grow faster and stay healthier because of precise diet delivery, which means the farmers can spend more time observing and tending to the calves’ other needs.

• Milk yield recording systems provide individual animal data, including the amount of milk produced at each milking, trends in daily milk production and milk components such as protein. Using this early detection information, dairy farmers can spot changes in animal routine that may be related to their health or changes in feed intake, giving caretakers an opportunity to detect issues that otherwise might not be apparent.

• Automated milking systems reduce the labor required to milk cows. The cows decide when they want to be milked and move freely around the barn without human intervention. Computer-controlled equipment identifies the cow, sanitizes the udder, gently collects the milk and releases the cow when she is done milking.

• Activity monitors, such as rumination collars, detect abnormal activity changes, which are early warning signs of illness or infection. This allows for quicker treatment. Monitoring activity through devices such as pedometers helps tracks cow activity and can help detect when a cow is ready for breeding or going into labor so the farmer can provide timely assistance.

• Computer, tablet and phone apps and programs allow for much greater collection of data that farmers need to make decisions.

Precision dairy farming benefits animals, dairy farmers, consumers and the environment. The benefits to animals include:

• Reduced health issues through constant monitoring of body temperatures, rumination patterns and activity levels

• More focused feeding plans that provide animals with the precise amount of nutrients they needed for growth or production

• Efficient monitoring of milk yield, milk components and body measurements

• Increased comfort through adjustments in housing, handling, nutrition or activity

Every farm has a common goal of becoming more sustainable. For dairy farmers, precision dairy farming provides the following benefits:

• Timelier, more informed decisions resulting in improved cow care and farm efficiencies

• Automated and individualized recordkeeping of cow milk production, feed intake and activity allows attention to a cow’s distinct nutritional needs and well-being

• Potential labor savings from needing fewer employees

• Increased quality of life for farmers, thanks to improved efficiency of farm practices

Consumers benefit from added precision in dairy farming, which should increase their confidence that milk is the safest and of the highest quality. Why? Precision dairy farming enhances farmers’ ability to provide better cow comfort, improves animal well-being and promotes less antibiotic use. As new innovations become affordable, dairy farmers are adopting technologies that will help them meet global consumer needs and their goal of feeding the world’s growing population.

The environment benefits because technology advances provide tools to improve on-farm production efficiencies, thereby reducing inputs such as energy. Precision dairy farming technologies also improve feed and animal management, providing greater potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing milk yields and improving nutrient use efficiency.

However, farmers have many considerations before adopting and implementing precision dairy technologies. Farmers must consider their unique objectives as well as family needs.

The addition of precision dairy techniques does not replace good management systems, but rather, it enhances them. Precision dairy farming offers new ways of monitoring and improving animal health, well-being and reproduction. In the same way that mechanization and expansion have improved productivity in the past 20 years, precision technologies will drive dairy industry progress in the future.