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Analytics + genetics = “dream cow”

Over many generations selective breeding, aka as genetic manipulation, has improved livestock in many ways ranging from increased disease resistance to improved meat and milk yields. But now farmers are looking at teaming analytics with genetics to improve livestock even more and do it even faster.

Analytics are technologies that make sense of data gathered by other technologies. For example, data on farm acreage, weather conditions, and crop yields are often gathered by modern farm tractors and other farm machinery. Similarly, data can be collected from livestock via a wide variety of sensors, including animal wearables and robotic milking machines.

The video below shows an example of both animal wearables (you’ll see it on the cow’s front leg) and a robotic milking system. The results of the analysis of the data collected on the animal and on the machines is displayed in easy-to-read visuals (depictions called visualizations) on a tablet in this video for the farmer to see.

The insights gained from this information helps farmers add efficiencies to their operations.

One study by researcher Juan Molfino on Grant and Leesa Williams' robotic milking farm at Hallora, West Gippsland, Victoria revealed “efficient cows produced 28% more milk from 11% fewer milkings than the inefficient cows, after allowing for the effects of stage of lactation, age and other factors that are known to influence milk production,” according to an article in The Australian Dairy Farmer.

So how can that information help that family farm and other farms like it?

For one thing, it reveals which cows need milking less often so the farmer can plan to milk more cows without buying more milking machines. That’s an improvement in efficiency and a direct means to improve both milk yields and profits.

For another thing, farmers are able to maximize their investments of time and money in genetics by providing the best possible circumstances for the animals from birth to slaughter. After all, the best breeding practices render a calf but it’s up to the farmer to bring that calf up to its full potential.

“We really want to better understand who those efficient cows are and what influences their milking behavior,” said Molfino in that same article. “Efficiency is likely to be influenced by a combination of genetics, management and animal behaviour. If we can unravel that we may be able to develop better ways to manage them. Even better would be to develop management practices to improve the efficiency of inefficient cows.”

The data and insights become even more useful over time. Grant Williams, the farmer showcased in The Australian Dairy Farmer article, has been collecting data from robotic milking for six years now and is continuing to do so.

“You can collect lots of data which can give a lot of insight into individual cows and the overall system,” he said. “We’ll be interested in testing management adjustments that could give us more dream cows.”

Livestock with great genes are the foundation upon which farmers can build successful farms but it helps if you build on that foundation rather than rest on it. Here’s wishing you the best of success and I promise I’ll try not to giggle if your cows’ Fitbits look just like mine!

Analytics + genetics = “dream cow”

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