Livestock Farming: It Could Get Even Smarter

Smart farming applications are making their way into the livestock farming sector, following a wave of technologies for crop farming. In fact, the first steps have already been taken in dairy and pig farming. Precision livestock farming technologies could help farmers improve productivity, decrease costs, and—at the same time—reduce their environmental footprint. And this isn’t about further intensification—it’s about smarter use of resources.

picture of dairy cow

Report summary

It all starts with the individual animal

Precision livestock farming (PLF) starts with the continuous, automatic collection and monitoring of data at the farm. By collecting data on individual animals, the management of these animals can be improved and adjusted accordingly. Smart equipment helps the farmer create (more) optimal living conditions for every animal. This is important, as farms are growing larger and are becoming more complex to manage. But there’s more: PLF can also create benefits beyond the operational, extending to the value chain and society at large (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: The need for PLF is driven by trends in the industry and society at large


Farm results are set to improve

By using PLF technology, farmers can make better-informed decisions, earlier in the process, as their own observations are enriched with big data. This leads to improved results on key farm performance indicators such as animal health and welfare, technical performance, environmental impact, and—last but not least—financial performance. One example is the improvement of animal health as a result of earlier detection of imminent diseases, through continuous monitoring of a dairy cow’s behaviour using cameras and sensors. Investments in these technologies are first likely to gain most traction in high-cost or large-scale farming systems.

Farm inputs suppliers should decide which role to play

Sensors on the farm, mobile applications, big data… the ingredients for PLF systems are being developed quickly. Both established equipment providers, as well as new entrants bring new technologies to the farm. But other FI providers—such as genetics, animal nutrition, and animal health suppliers—should also decide which role to play. The RaboResearch report Livestock Farming Could Get Smarter: The Potential of Precision Livestock Farming identifies five key activities. Ultimately, achieving a next step change in productivity within the boundaries of sustainable production requires an even better understanding of the needs of the individual animal, along with a further integrated approach to farm management.