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A story about connected cows

A few weeks ago, InfoFarm was hosted by farmer Luc and his wife Marina from the Sint-Jozefhoeve for a teambuilding. Next to running a full dairy farm they still find the time to organize teambuilding activities, give educations to schools and facilitate team coaching and talent development sessions. How they find the time to do all that, you might ask? Not by acquiring additional workforces for their dairy farm, but by intelligently adopting Data Science, IoT and automation.

Automated milking

We get a small tour around the dairy farm. Off course we all get the chance to milk a cow ourselves, and we get to pet the newborn calves, but how Luc really gets our attention is with all the technology which makes his life and that of his cows a lot easier, and also makes his dairy yield greater than ever before.

First, we pass along the cow-wellness. There’s a dry washing machine for cows, in which the cows come and wash themselves when they feel dirty. There even is a full-blown cow pedicure. This process all happens fully automatically. 

What also happens fully automatically is the milking of the cows itself. Luc has a milking robot, for which the cows are cueing in line in order the be milked by the machine. When a cow enters the robot, the robot checks whether it’s already time for that cow to be milked again. If that is the case, the machine is connected to the cow’s udder with the help of lasers and optical sensors. But not before cleaning it of course. And then, the milking can begin.

Predictive Maintenance for cows

While milking the machine collects a whole lot of data: the milk temperature, lactose levels, milk conductivity, the fat and protein content, … With all these values, Luc can respond in an informed manner to the well-being of his animals. For example, he can trace if his cows have an elevated risk of udder inflammation and act on it using preventive treatment, which can prevent the need for antibiotics. 

During the milking the cow gets a portion of cookies from the robot. The amount of cookies depends on the volume of the given milk: the more milk the cow gives, the more cookies that she gets in return. This also makes the cows deliver more milk in the long run. And for the cows: they really don’t mind.

IoT and Data Science

It immediately becomes apparent that all cows are wearing an ankle strap. These IoT devices continuously send data about the behavior of the cows. By looking at their walking behavior, Luc can see when it’s the best time for inseminating the cows, or when they are sick. This allows him to take actions proactively and in a preventive manner, and makes the cows productivity higher. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Luc quickly saw the importance and potential of data for his company, and collects a lot of other data for himself. For instance, he investigates the influence of weather and heat on his dairy production, he studies the physical and physiological characteristics of his cows to find the right mates for his breeding program, and lots, lots more…

The dairy farm of Luc and Marina is an example for a lot of other companies, not only in the agricultural sector. By intelligently using data and sensors they make sure that their yields are maximized, the well-being of their employees (the cows) is optimal, and they take well-informed decisions backed by actual data in every step along the way. They deliberately don’t choose for an upscaling of their farm, but for optimizing what they already have as a strategy for growth. Next to that, they also get extra time at hand to focus on other things and expanding their target reach.

Or how we can all learn something from connected cows....

  

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