The Impact of Livestock Farming Technology in Animal Agriculture

By Taylor Fay & Linly Ku Published on Jul. 03, 2023

Most of us are familiar with the term “farm-to-table.” We set out on sunny Saturday mornings for brunch at trendy cafés and restaurants, but while we gulp down our mimosas, we often forget the undertaking required to bring our favorite dishes from farms to kitchens. Farmers face challenges from infrastructure to connectivity, growing demands for animal proteins, food spoilage, and disease with rising concerns around animal health.

Technology disrupts all industries in our modern age, and AgTech is no exception. We sought a mission to return to our roots and gather perspective from those leading the industry and working to address these issues.

The traditional livestock industry is a sector that is widely overlooked and under-serviced, although it is arguably the most vital. Livestock provides much-needed renewable natural resources that we rely on daily. So why is the process of adopting technology so slow within this industry? Well, the short answer: money. The economics of the livestock industry shifts from season to season, meaning it’s not always profitable. With fewer investments comes fewer adoptions of technology.

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Investors need to understand the market dynamics that farmers face. “We can’t view farming in the Silicon Valley mind frame since farms don’t operate in the same manner,” says Amado Guloy, CEO and Founder of Rex Animal Health. IoT has taken off, and investments in IoT continue to increase. Yet, most investors don’t realize that big data is often inaccessible to farmers because of a lack of infrastructure and internet connectivity.

Companies such as Cainthus and Rex Animal Health are working to address some of these industry’s pain points. Cainthus’ cutting-edge technology monitors cows 24/7, 365 days a year, analyzing their well-being, productivity, and performance. They translate visual information into actionable data using computer vision and artificial intelligence. In seconds, their imaging technology identifies and memorizes individual animals by their unique features.

Rex Animal Health brings together clinical, performance, health, and genetic data to provide a clear understanding for farmers to prevent and predict disease in herds, which can optimize yields.

Digitalization of Livestock Management

Livestock Farming Technology in Animal Agriculture 1

(Source: Cainthus)

Livestock management is traditionally known as running the business of poultry farms, dairy farms, cattle ranches, or other livestock-related agribusinesses. Livestock managers must keep accurate financial records, supervise workers, and ensure proper care and feeding of animals.

However, recent trends have proven that technology is revolutionizing the world of livestock management. New developments in the past eight to ten years have considerably improved the industry, making tracking and managing livestock much easier and more data-driven. This technology can come from nutritional technologies, genetics, and digital technology.

Livestock farming technological companies are developing sensors to monitor real-time milk production and quality, health, and pregnancy hormones. In addition, virtual fences can move animals wearing a sensor remotely from one area of a pasture to another. Even robotics is advancing fast in this industry, addressing the challenges of labor shortages on traditional livestock farms. 12% of dairy farms use robots, and is expected to grow to 20% in the next five years.

Livestock Technology and the ‘Connected Cow’

Everything in the digital age is connected, including farming and agriculture. Livestock farming technology can improve animal and livestock productivity capacity, welfare, or management. The concept of the ‘connected cow’ results from more and more dairy herds fitted with sensors to monitor health and increase productivity; putting individual wearable sensors on cattle can keep track of daily activity and health-related issues while providing data-driven insights for the entire herd. The generated data turns into meaningful, actionable insights where producers can look quickly and efficiently to make management decisions.

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(Source: Financial Times)

Cainthus is one startup leading innovation in the livestock farming technology space. This machine vision company IDs animals through cameras and monitors their behaviors - time spent eating, drinking, and feeding locations throughout the day. By monitoring feed delivery, they can deliver a body condition score that tells farmers real-time health statistics on their livestock, such as weight, fat, and even if the animal has a limp. Tracking a host of animal behavior allows producers to have better livestock management, thus having healthier livestock with better use of resources.

What is Animal Genomics?

Animal genomics is the study of looking at the entire gene landscape of a living animal and how they interact with each other to influence the animal’s growth and development. Genomics helps livestock producers understand their herds' genetic risk and determine their future profitability. By being strategic with animal selection and breeding decisions, cattle genomics allows producers to optimize the profitability and yields of livestock herds.

Rex Animal Health is one animal genomics company that aims to bring animal health to the 21st century by making veterinary medicine and husbandry data-driven. This company believes that data has the power to transform the animal health industry as it has in the fields of finance, weather, and human health.

By bringing together data from various sources and time periods, the insights we produce can reshape how pharmaceutical companies discover new gene targets and develop drugs, how veterinarians manage chronic diseases in animals, and how the community understands and perceives animal health.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Livestock Technology

Sensor and data technologies have enormous benefits for the current livestock industry. It can improve the productivity and welfare of livestock by detecting sick animals and intelligently recognizing room for improvement. Computer vision allows us to have all sorts of unbiased data that will get summarized into meaningful, actionable insights. Data-driven decision-making leads to better, more efficient, and timely decisions that will advance the productivity of livestock herds.

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(Source: Cainthus)

However, there are some unintended consequences of this technology. Agriculture is often at the bottom of all charts for technology adoption in the digitalization of industries. The cyclical nature of economics in the livestock industry makes it difficult for producers to justify the initial steep upfront costs of implementing these technologies.

Another challenge of the livestock industry, mainly because of the development of advanced farming technologies, is that in a dairy herd manager’s office, multiple computers and screens are often dedicated to a different farming technology or records-keeping program. A significant need in the livestock industry is for more integration of these technologies so that one platform can bring together all of this data.

Many companies are working on developing this one platform that summarizes the data to make well-informed decisions. Data integration and facilitating decision-making are necessary for the dairy and livestock management industry and, more broadly, the entire agriculture industry. Data is not enough - valuable insights should lead to actionable decisions.

What is the future of Livestock Management?

With a domestic market value of over $30 billion annually and nine million dairy cows in the United States, investors are starting to take a significant interest. Tyler Bramble, Portfolio Growth Lead at Cainthus, envisions a cow-centric approach for the future: “Today, we manage livestock for the most part around the human schedule. This technology will allow us to manage livestock from a cow-centric approach. Animals will be able to act and go about their day in a more natural behavior and environment than it can today.

Regardless of all the current challenges, the future is bright for the connected cow.

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