On-farm data collection, decision tools and automated cow farming have gotten smarter in recent years — and will get even smarter as the smart-farming concept evolves.

Smart-farming is the interaction between new technology and cow management. It features data collection, aided decision tools and automated processes that work together to reduce risks and increase farmer profitability, while also making physically demanding tasks easier.

Some of the technology is currently available, some is in development, while other tools will be created as the need and the market develops.

Innovation triad

The focus is generally on three main areas of innovation:

  • Automated milking systems, including future robotics for large-scale farms.
  • Total management control and monitoring of individual cows and herds, using biomodels.
  • Automated feeding systems that adjust rations “on the go” to maximize cow profits and reduce feed cost.

“Our vision is an on-farm integrated system where we can apply even further automation,” says Andrew Turner, DeLaval vice president, milking systems product area. “Our key focus is boosting profitability, milk quality, lifestyle and animal welfare altogether.” To this end, DeLaval hosted a Smart Farming conference at its development dairy farm near Hamra, Sweden, last winter and highlighted it at the World Ag Expo in February.

High on the list is the potential development of robotics for a rotary parlor platform. Dairy equipment companies are hard at work fine-tuning this technology and expect to unveil it soon, but no timeline is available. Meanwhile, advancements continue on all robotic-milking fronts.

Analyze this

On-farm analysis will be very important to this technology. Researchers will continue to find ways to monitor and secure milk quality, since that is at the top of consumers’ agendas.

Technologies include:

  • On-farm somatic cell count monitors.
  • Monitors to screen for blood in milk.
  • And soon, technology that will screen for antibiotics, colostrum detection, as well as screens for bacteria counts and bacteria type.

On the feeding front, automation can pave the way for improved ration consistency and accuracy, including tools that enable producers to perform feed analyses on the go, says Stefan Bergstrand, DeLaval dairy expert and training manager. This allows producers to re-balance rations as needed.

Additionally, technology will be available to monitor the silage-fermentation process and storage stability so producers can track feed quality daily, if desired.

Analyze that

Herd-monitoring technology is under development to estimate disease risk and assign prevention strategies. 

These systems make use of analysis software to gain valuable input from all the data that are available, including milk samples. Eventually, these systems will become more and more specific and operate in a wireless capacity as technology develops.

Ultimately, the goal of this new technology is to allow users to manage in a proactive manner, rather than reactively. Expect developments in manure analysis, fermentation and process indications, forage composition data and feed distribution, along with heat index dry matter intake and more accurate analysis of milk in the coming months and years from a variety of sources.

And expect the technology to be pushed much further than what’s envisioned today.