Novel animal-mounted sensor technology to improve efficiency and sustainability

Lead Research Organisation: SRUC
Department Name: Research

Abstract

In the UK, the average herd size and animal to stockman ratio is increasing within the beef and dairy sectors, thus the time devoted to monitoring of individual animals is reducing. In order to optimise the production efficiency of the UK livestock sector, there is a requirement for the development and use of cost-effective animal monitoring solutions to inform on the health and productive status of individual animals.
Dystocia is a considerable problem within beef and dairy systems causing the cow considerable pain. Prevalences of up to 22.6% in dairy cattle and 6% in beef cattle have been reported, with as many as 51% or dairy calvings and 34% of beef calvings requiring some level of assistance. The costs associated with mild and severe cases of dystocia in the dairy herds have been estimated as between £110 and £400 due to milk loss, increased days open, increased numbers of services, premature culling of loss of cows and lost calves. Timely intervention on difficult calving's can significantly reduce calf mortality, uterine infections post-partum and calving to conception interval compared with unassisted calving . Thus the development of methods to automatically predict calving onset and identify problematic calvings is important to facilitate timely and appropriate interventions.

A number of physiological and behavioural changes occur around calving which offer opportunities for the prediction of calving onset. Despite the possibility of using ability of hormonal changes as indicators to be used for prediction of calving, the variable accuracy of these, figures and need for invasive nature of blood sampling to detect changes in hormones limits its usefulness as a method of automatic dystocia prediction. Reductions in body temperature occur on the day of calving compared with 2-3 days before calving but high variations in temperature change between individual animals and possible impacts of pyrexia limit the predictive power of temperature alone.

The n-invasive nature of behavioural observations and the availability of a number of sensors on the market or near to market designed to monitor different elements of cattle behaviour provides opportunities for translation of current behavioural and technology validation research into a multi-sensor platform for the prediction of calving onset and calving difficulties. Lying and standing behaviour, eating and rumination patterns, social behaviour and tail raising events are known to change during the 24 hours prior to calving This study will assist in translating a range of behavioural research and technical knowledge into a potential early warning system for calving and dystocia. It will assess a number of technologies on the market or near-to-market for related and other uses (e.g. detection of oestrus) for their capabilities in the detection of calving and dystocia. The use of combined technologies is likely to result in increased accuracy of decision making algorithms and will therefore provide added value to the end user. The availability of early detection and alerts for parturition/dystocia will enable farmers to intervene in a timely manner to prevent the losses associated with dystocia, thus optimising the economic and production efficiency of their business. The prevention of pain and suffering for both the dam and calf aligns clearly with the BBSRC animal welfare strategies. The development of appropriate early warning systems is key to maximising the sustainability of UK and global agriculture.

Planned Impact

The following areas will benefit from the proposed research:

1. UK beef and dairy producers
a. The proposed system will allow farmers to identify issues with calving, and optimise interventions, thereby reducing the risk of dystocia and the related economic losses. This will allow for informed interventions to increase the overall efficiency of their production unit.
b. As the UK commercial partners will have first access to the technology they will be the first to benefit. Reducing farm costs should increase the competitiveness of the UK dairy (a nationally important current issue) and beef industry and make their products more competitive against foreign competitors.

2. The UK
a. The technological systems proposed will enhance the economic efficiency of the UK beef and dairy sector, thus increasing the competitiveness over imported products and guaranteeing the sustainability of the UK beef and dairy industry.
b. Reduced production costs and efficient production methods by reducing dam health risk and increasing percentage of successful calvings, could enhance the reputation of UK beef and dairy products and increase the value of UK exports.
c. There will be a reduced environmental footprint from more efficient production, improved health and welfare, reduced losses (yields and mortality) and optimal use of farm resources.
d. Greenhouse gas output will be reduced through more efficient production.
e. Increasing the profitability of the UK beef and dairy sectors will lead to social benefits including enhanced rural employment.

3. Animal welfare
a. Increased monitoring of individual animals will allow for more timely health interventions. Therefore, the use of this system will allow for calving difficulties to be detected sooner, thus reducing losses (through reduced productivity of cows, calf mortality), reduced suffering, improved health and welfare of individual animals

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Agri-EPI Centre Ltd 
Organisation Cranfield University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Successfuly bid for one of the new UK Centres for Agricultural Innovation
Collaborator Contribution Jont lead
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Agri-EPI Centre Ltd 
Organisation Harper Adams University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Assimilated into a joint bid for funding into the UK Centres of Agriculural Innovation call and were successful
Collaborator Contribution Joint leads
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description University of Essex 
Organisation University of Essex
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A direct result of this grant has allowed a new collaboration between ourselves (SRUC) and Essex University . Each bring different skills to a multidisciplinary collaboration important in solving important challenges across the beef and dairy sectors - specifically losses around poor calving's. This has allowed for the integration of different technologies, which would not have occurred without this new working relationship. The research team at SRUC have contributed long-standing skills in the use of animal-mounted sensors (in this case specifically related to accelerometry) in predicting important features of the animal (activity monitoring, feeding behaviours, tail raise behaviours). SRUC have facilitated the involvement of commercial company afimilk whom SRUC have a long-standing history in working with to develop the silent herdsman platform. SRUC have also provided access to their state-of-the art research farm facilities and research/technical expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Professor Edward Codling brings mathematics and modelling expertise using sensor data to the project team which will assist with the predictive modelling of integrated multiple sensor data streams.
Impact The project is currently at an early stage with promising results. However these are not yet ready for wider dissemination.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Writtle University College 
Organisation Writtle College
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A direct result of this grant has allowed a new collaboration between ourselves (SRUC) and Writtle University College. Each bring skills associated with different technologies and a common interest in solving important challenges across the beef and dairy sectors - specifically losses around poor calving's. This has allowed for the integration of different technologies, which would not have occurred without this new working relationship. The research team at SRUC have contributed long-standing skills in the use of animal-mounted sensors (in this case specifically related to accelerometry) in predicting important features of the animal (activity monitoring, feeding behaviours, tail raise behaviours). SRUC have facilitated the involvement of commercial company afimilk whom SRUC have a long-standing history in working with to develop the silent herdsman platform. SRUC have also provided access to their state-of-the art research farm facilities and research/technical expertise.
Collaborator Contribution The research team at Writtle university college have provided expertise in the area of positional location and have facilitated the involvement of commercial company Omnisense who have provided access to their multi-sensor technology platform. The integration of multiple data streams from different platforms (Omnisense and Afimilk) are being used to improve and optimise our predictions of calving to overcome the huge losses we see at calving. Writtle university college have provided access to a commercial dairy unit for testing of the multi-sensor platform.
Impact This research project is in the early stages with promising results. However, these are not ready for wider dissemination.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Host - visitors from ICAR (International Committee for Animal Recording) conference to SRUC to dicuss Precision tools for livestock producers - 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Hosted a visit for delegates of the International committee on animal recording (ICAR) to demonstrate and discuss and present the precision livestock farming developments taking place at SRUC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Interview with reporter (Western Poducer, Canada) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Visit and Interview for Western Producer, Canada's largest farm newspaper. Barbara Duckworth (reporter) prepared a news article following discussions with Carol-Anne Duthie titled "Data used to help producers select for efficiency".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited conference speaker - European Association of Animal Production 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An invited talk was presented to the precision livestock farming session at the European Association of Animal Production (EAAP) in Tallin, Estonia 2017. This provided an international platform to present SRUC's research activity in the development and application of precision tools for the ruminant sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited talk for Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) event: Emerging Imaging Technologies in Agri-Food Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact KTN organised a workshop in January 2018 to bring together experts from the imaging and agri-food sectors to discuss industry needs, technological gaps and potential opportunities for emerging imaging technologies in agri-food. In addition to participation in this workshop, Carol-Anne Duthie presented SRUC's research in the development and application of precision tools for the livestock sector (ruminant and monogastrics).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Participation - Workshop on Data flow from livestock sensors to improve meat safety, animal health and welfare and productivity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact FSA organised event (invite only). Participated in engaging discussions to (I) identifying what combination of parameters would give the best predictive power about the health status of an animal, e.g. to allow targeted interventions by abattoir managers and officials. Understanding current methods of detection for the parameters identified, with a particular focus on sensor and data analysis technologies, but also exploring other relevant technologies. Developing ways to detect and measure identified parameters. ii) Establish optimal methods to connect data from sensors on groups of animals to veterinary records (e.g. feed intake, feed composition, breeding data, veterinary medicines, etc.) and abattoirs. Developing a model to easily integrate the data, ensuring continuous flow of information to enable changes to be introduced, e.g. in farm husbandry practices, abattoir interventions, official controls, etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Precision Agriculture delegation organised by the Science and Innovation Network: British High Commission, Delhi 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Participated in an event where SRUC hosted a Precision Agriculture delegation organised by the Science and Innovation Network: British High Commission, Delhi.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Royal Highland Show - Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Royal Highland Show (Edinburgh, Scotland) is one of the highlights of the agricultural calendar in the UK, and every year SRUC actively participate in this event. Staff members from SRUC showcase the research, education and consulting divisions. Myself and team members actively engage in this event to promote and discuss the research we do to the general public aswell as the farming industry and policy makers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016
 
Description Use of Sensors and Communication Devices in Agriculture workshop - participation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Satellite Applications Catapult held a workshop on current farming practices involving data gathering and processing. It will also describe communications technologies used to transfer in-field data to the internet. SRUC research activities were covered in presentations provided at the event. Approx 80 individuals from across academia and industry attended the event, which facilitated collaborative discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017