How Technology is Changing the Livestock Industry
- 10 Jan, 2020
While you may not necessarily conflate livestock and technological innovations, the agriculture industry is experiencing a technology boom of sorts. As investors and developers realize that livestock-specific technology has the potential to improve yields as well as animal well-being, they are turning towards agriculture. Here are seven ways that technology is shaping the future of livestock industries.
Automation, though it's now been around for several years, was one of the key players in early livestock-industry innovation. One of the most efficient forms of automation is the milking machine. Rather than having to milk an entire herd of cows by hand, a farmer can simply hook cattle to a suction-based milking machine. The collection of eggs is another innovation, this automated method saves time and effort on the part of farm staff. Plus, automation often seems to grow with time—recent research has been dedicated to the production of milking robots, which adjust for each individual cow.
Precise Animal Monitoring
One of the most interesting technological innovations in agriculture is a new technology that monitors individual cows. Using technology similar to facial recognition, this system monitors individual animals. It memorizes their features and translates into data that can help farmers know if an individual animal is sick, producing less milk than usual, or otherwise in distress. Another system by aggregates data on animal performance, health, and genetics to help farmers predict disease and monitor overall herd productivity. This helps to reduce losses and increase yields, while also supporting the well-being of the animals themselves.
And just like humans can wear Fitbit and other health-monitoring devices, some cows can now do the same. Technology is currently being developed to help farmers track each cow's general health: smart collars that can check sweat for electrolyte levels, body-heat-monitoring ear tags, and other innovations are quickly creating "connected cows."
Spotting Disease with Thermal Imaging
While the technology itself has been around for a while, thermal imaging has unique potential applications when it comes to animal health. Milk cows are prone to mastitis, a painful inflammation in the udder. Mastitis also reduces milk yields and may sometimes lead to milk contamination. However, early on, it's almost impossible to spot with the naked eye. By using thermal imaging systems, farmers are able to identify mastitis early on in its development. The swelling causes the udder to emit a significant amount of heat. From there, a cow could be treated immediately and quickly return to producing full yields of milk.
When you think about the amount of electricity needed to run a farm, and especially to run a livestock farm, you realize that it's often a very significant amount. However, solar power, which is sometimes used to power homes, is also sometimes used to supply power to livestock farms. And in order to save labor and energy, additional automation helps. Livestock equipment like chicken houses can be solar powered with automated light fixtures. This often involves lights being set on a timer, as they turn on and off automatically at set times during the day.
Preventing Disease with Probiotics
Whether you've taken them yourself or not, you've likely heard that probiotics can be extremely useful when it comes to strengthening your immune system against disease. In the very near future, chickens may be taking probiotics to prevent disease, too. Clostridium Perfringens is a disease that causes millions of dollars in poultry destruction annually. The UK is developing a probiotic that could be mixed in chicken feed or water. This probiotic can help protect chickens against diseases before their onset, which would reduce losses. Plus, a probiotic lessens the need to use antibiotics later. Just as is the case with humans, when sick chickens are over-prescribed antibiotics, bacterial strains can develop antibiotic resistance. These strains can then reintroduce and kill chickens at higher rates. There's also a significant risk of the very antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain spreading to humans and causing an outbreak.
One of the issues with large commercial chicken houses is that the high volume of birds inside tends to cause birds to overheat. This causes them discomfort, and it can also lead to reduced egg and meat yields. However, new research has indicated that there are several ways to reduce poultry heat stress in large pens. One of these ways is solar power, mentioned above--solar-powered founds are an energy-efficient way to keep poultry pens well-ventilated. Another is vegetation. Since modern agricultural farming often makes the animals' environment artificial, part of newer innovation is including a return to the benefits of nature. By surrounding pens with leafy vegetation, farmers will be able to reduce the sun's heat on their birds. Plants also will help with oxygenation and ventilation.
Flies From the Lab: Future Dinner?
While many of the efforts listed above are helping to reduce meat farming's negative effects on the earth, the truth is that raising large numbers of animals for meat is likely to increasingly strain the earth's resources. Much of agricultural research is aimed at increasing sustainability, but one of the major new initiatives may surprise you. Researchers are currently exploring lab-grown insect “meat” as an alternative to traditional meat production. Insects are generally even more protein-dense than most other kinds of meat and growing it in the lab has the potential to save money and resources. Most importantly, insect cultivation requires much less water than raising animals for food. Of course, you can't buy insect meat just yet, but more research is being done to investigate ways this method may help conserve resources.
Expanding technological innovations to the livestock industry has the potential to benefit many: the animals themselves, the people who consume and raise them, and the sustainability of the Earth as a whole. Some of the above innovations have been in place for years, while others are still being developed before broader applications. With newer technology, the future of the world and the future of livestock farming start to look a little brighter.
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