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 today are facing challenges from infrastructure to connectivity, growing demands for animal proteins to food spoilage, and disease with concerns rising around animal health. Technology is disrupting all industries in our modern age, and AgTech is no exception. We sought out on a mission to get back 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 every day. So why is the process to adopt 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.
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 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. Using computer vision and artificial intelligence, they translate visual information into actionable data. 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, that in turn can optimize yields.
Digitalization of Livestock Management
Livestock management has traditionally been 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 8-10 years have made huge improvements to the industry that make tracking and managing livestock much easier and data-driven. This technology can come in the form of nutritional technologies, genetics, digital technology, and more.
Sensors are being developed to monitor real-time milk quality, health, and pregnancy hormones. In addition, virtual fences exist that can move animals wearing a sensor to be moved remotely from one area of a pasture to another. Even robotics are advancing fast in this industry, where it’s addressing the challenges of labor shortages on traditional livestock farms. 12% of dairy farms are currently using robots and is expected to grow to 20% in the next 5 years.
Livestock Technology and the ‘Connected Cow’
Everything in the digital age is connected, including farming and agriculture. Livestock technology can enhance or improve the productivity capacity, welfare, or management of animals and livestock. The concept of the ‘connected cow’ is a result of more and more dairy herds being 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. All this data generated is also being turned into meaningful, actionable insights where producers can look quickly and easily to make quick management decisions.
(Source: Financial Times)
Cainthus is one startup that is leading innovation in the livestock technology space. Cainthus is a machine vision company ID’s animals through the use of cameras and monitor their behaviors - time spent eating, drinking, and feed 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. By monitoring a whole host of animal behavior, Cainthus’s technology can allow producers to have better management of their animals, thus having healthier livestock with better use of resources.
What is Animal Genomics?
Animal genomics can be defined as 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 help livestock producers understand the genetic risk of their herds and determine the future profitability of their livestock. By being strategic with animal selection and breeding decisions, cattle genomics allows producers to optimize profitability and yields of livestock herds.
Rex Animal Health is one animal genomics company that is on a mission to bring animal health to the 21st century by making veterinary medicine and husbandry data driven. Rex believes that data has the power to transform the animal health industry as it has transformed the fields of finance, weather, and human health. By bringing together data from various sources and time periods, the insights we produce can reshape: The way pharmaceutical companies discover new gene targets and develop drugs, the way veterinarians manage chronic diseases in animals and the way community understands and perceives animal health.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Livestock Technology
Sensor and data technologies have huge 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.
However, there are some unintended consequences of this technology. In the digitalization of industries, agriculture is often at the bottom of all charts for technology adoption. 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 particularly as more and more technology is being developed, is that in a dairy herd manager’s office, there are often multiple computers and screens each dedicated to a different technology or records keeping program. A major need in the livestock industry is for more integration of these technologies so that there can be one platform that brings together all of this data. There are companies that are working on this and pulling data from multiple sources into one app that summarizes the data nicely so that it can be used to make well-informed decisions. Data integration and facilitating decision-making is true not only for the dairy and livestock management industry but also more broadly for the entire agriculture industry. Having data is not enough - the 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 9 million dairy cows just in the US, investors are starting to take a major 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 its day in a more natural behavior and environment that it can today.”
Regardless of all the current challenges, the future is bright for the connected cow.
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