At the Grill with William Torres: What is precision livestock farming? And how does it work with genetics?

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about talks about the benefits of precision livestock farming for animal health and the bottom line

Well, it’s a complicated answer with a simple translation. With Earth’s population rapidly building towards nine billion by 2037, every resource we produce is being stretched thin. Sustainability is no longer a simple buzzword of the environmental movement, it’s now the prime focus of progress in our world. Though precision agriculture is a concept that has been around for decades, Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) is newer. And I can summarize it in three key words: “Attention to Detail.”

PLF involves monitoring animals or using objective measurements on the animals, using signal analysis algorithms and statistical analysis. These techniques are applied in part with the goal of regaining an advantage of older, smaller-scale farming, namely detailed knowledge of individual animals. Think of it as getting back to your roots when you knew every animal on the farm.

Before large farms became the norm, most farmers had an intimate knowledge of their livestock. Moreover, a farmer could typically trace an animal’s pedigree and retain other important characteristics. Each animal was approached as an individual. In the past three decades, farms have multiplied in scale, with highly-automated processes for feeding and other tasks. Consequently, farmers are forced to work with many more animals to make their living out of livestock farming, so work with average values per group. Variety has become an impediment to increasing economies of scale.

With individual genetic and other information, one can utilize such management. Many companies offer individual animal management but it’s also applied to the pen or lot of cattle, as “group” management. Think about it, even from a feeding perspective, you couldn’t possibly have a diet for each animal but chances are, many of them can be on the same diet. If you know and understand how to manage your genetics, you can also deliver the best diet for them. Cattle are mammals, and, just like you and me, we all gain weight differently. Many of us will have the same genetic marker for appetite, fat deposition, marbling, etc. Therefore, if we are grouped together, management can be easier and more lucrative.

Precision feeding involves reducing feed and nutrient waste by only feeding the precise amount needed to reach optimum production. It’s already being used extensively in the dairy industry, and we should at least think about implementing on the beef side. The process uses quality data management and recipe management to ensure that each animal is getting exactly what they need without wasting precious resources that could be used elsewhere. Generally speaking, precision feeding reduces the inputs required on the farm, which lowers farm overhead and improves profitability.

PLF is developing rapidly, and is moving beyond health alarms towards an integrated decision-making system. It includes animal sensor and production data but also external data. PLF offers opportunities for the cattle sector through early disease detection, capturing animal-related information more objectively and consistently, predicting risks for animal health and welfare, increasing the efficiency of animal production, and objectively determining animal affective states.



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