By Christoph Götz
Digital factories, digital logistics and even digital fields seem to have become a matter of course. Industrie 4.0 has already brought about a fundamental change to the concept of innovative production, distribution and consumption processes - yet many aspects are still at an early stage. Prototypes and model farms dominate the scene, while established lines are still scarce. The situation is quite different in dairy farming, where man, animal and technology form a symbiosis rarely found elsewhere. Instead of spending their time with abstract debates, manufacturers of milking, cooling and feeding equipment already have solutions in place that are not just being simulated and demonstrated, but are in actual daily use.
High-tech for animal welfare
Given that the use of high-tech equipment in a cowshed is not immediately apparent to outsiders, one might very well ask: Why all the effort? But the highest standards are particularly important at the starting point of the production of cheese, yogurt, curd and butter. Hardly any other food is as sensitive and subject to equally strict hygiene and documentation regulations. And hardly any other producers are faced with similarly critical questions as are livestock farmers. Animal welfare and food safety have gained tremendous social relevance. This is where innovative digitalization solutions in dairy farming come into play. Larger farm sizes, increasing demands on productivity and the growing necessity of reacting extremely quickly to volatile raw materials markets have resulted in an enormous increase in the professionalism and efficiency of dairy farms.
The farmer as behavioral scientist and efficiency optimizer
The peculiarity of today's livestock farming and the shift of focus from uniform cohorts to individuals with their own needs provides a virtually ideal playground for digitalization. When using the value of a single animal as the basis, whose actual useful life correlates considerably with the degree of care it receives, then the considerable input dedicated to animal observation pays off many times over. A system of sensors that starts at "critical points" comprehensively documents health and profitability parameters for a single animal. And that is not all. Genuine transparency can be most impressively seen at the production level, where traceability from the supermarket’s refrigerated section back to feed production has already become a reality.
Keeping an eye on the herd with 3D-analyses
Farmers are interested in measurable parameters and reliable indicators. The idea behind the connected cowshed is to keep track of every single animal in a herd and increase production efficiency. For example, locating animals with help from active wireless sensors makes it possible to easily record the feeding and movement behavior of the entire cow herd. Using algorithms, the data on an individual animal can then be evaluated to see how it compares to the average for the entire herd.
Such automation approaches particularly unlock many benefits in the field of health and hygiene management, allowing the early detection and treatment of metabolic disorders, udder inflammations or lameness.
Experts are convinced that the systematic processing of all types of cow-related data using efficient IT infrastructures is a key factor for the future success of dairy cattle businesses. After all, temperature and position sensors, video cameras and pedometers are increasing used to provide effective, around the clock care of the livestock population. What is more, innovative processes based on 3D and infrared image analysis are already waiting in the wings. A great future is predicted for these systems, given that they are a further step in automating visual and thermal measurements of the livestock's body condition. It goes without saying that this results in a considerable reduction in the human workload. Arduous workflows, tiresome monotonous activities and physical strain peaks become increasingly rarer, while error rates drop significantly. In turn, the quality of work increases dramatically thanks to the monitoring of critical points and the availability of rational decision-making tools. Process documentation, transparency and traceability create a network and data quality that seemed unimaginable just a short while ago.
VDMA Agricultural Machinery as a driver of connectivity
The connectivity approach has long been common practice in agricultural technology. Connecting tractors and planting implement, harvesters and transport carts, milking and feeding technology - in short: man, animal and technology - has long been a challenge that is successfully solved with solutions that include all manufacturers: using intelligent interfaces that were originally developed as mechanical and hydraulic couplings and increasingly turned into digital interfaces. VDMA Agricultural Machinery plays an invaluable role in this networking process that relies heavily on mutual standards. It offers a work and discussion platform, acts as a service provider with top-class technology and research expertise and a portfolio of market information and statistics that is unique in the sector. But most importantly, VDMA Agricultural Machinery is a network of the people involved in the agricultural technology community.
More than 170 national and international companies in the European agricultural machinery and tractor industry are currently members in the VDMA Agricultural Machinery association. The association records a turnover volume of 7 billion euros, which equals 90 percent of the industry's turnover in Germany. With an average export quota of 75 percent, the agricultural machinery manufacturers organized in VDMA are real global players, delivering high-tech solutions to more than 130 markets around the world.