Installing a milking robot or a lameness detection system on your dairy farm? AFBI wants to hear from you!

Date published: 25 November 2022

Area of Expertise:

Automation is on the rise on Northern Irish dairy farms. For instance, in 2018 10% of the national herd was already managed within automated milking systems. This is expected to rise further in the future.

Stephanie Buijs (right) and Laura McAnally (left) assessing welfare in a herd on pasture

Background

New technologies that automatically send alerts to the farmer if a cow needs further inspection or care are also finding their way onto farms. One example is the use of systems that monitor mobility issues, which should allow farmers to detect lameness at an early stage and without the need for regular mobility scoring.

Automation of routine farm tasks has the potential to reduce labour whilst increasing productivity and detection of specific welfare problems. However, these potential benefits are not always achieved to the fullest for a variety of reasons. One main concern is that as automation takes over daily tasks on the farm, this reduces the amount of time that the farmer spends out with the herd. In turn, this could mean that issues that aren’t monitored by the automated technology may go unnoticed more often. Whether this happens or not is greatly dependent on how farmers choose to spend the time that is freed up by the automation.

Assessing mobility is an important part of the welfare protocol
Assessing mobility is an important part of the welfare protocol
Do they use this time to perform targeted inspections of cow health? Do they spend it reviewing data generated by the automated systems? Or are farmers simply try to reduce labour overall, rather than replacing one task with another? To answer these questions, AFBI has recently started the DAERA funded project AUTODAIRY.

Assessing the effects of automation on NI dairy farms

In the AUTODAIRY project, AFBI will study the effect of automation on a range of commercial farms. Commercial farm insight is essential, as the effects of automation depend on how the farmer interacts with the system. As mentioned previously, this includes how the farmer chooses to spend the time that is freed up. But another important element is how effective farmers are in interpreting the alerts sent out by automated technologies, and if they are able to effectively follow up on these alerts by taking the necessary steps to actually solve the problem.

The project will not only provide information on how effectively automation is currently implemented in the NI dairy sector, but also aims to identify what the barriers to successful implementation are.

Call for farms to participate

AFBI has recently started the DAERA funded project AUTODAIRY
AFBI has recently started the DAERA funded project AUTODAIRY
Currently, AFBI is recruiting farmers to participate in this project. NI dairy farms can participate if they are going to install an automated milking system or a lameness detection system, but haven’t done so yet.  This specific group is targeted because AFBI staff will visit participating farms several times ahead of the installation to assess cow welfare, labour and productivity. Results before the installation are then compared to those of a second set of visits after the installation, to see how the farm evolved. Ideally visits to the farm would start as early as one year before installation, although if that isn’t possible an alternative visit schedule can be used.

By participating, farmers will gain clear insight in how their investment is affecting their farm. Furthermore, they will find out more about their farm’s strengths and weaknesses regarding cow welfare, labour patterns and productivity, as they will be able to compare their own results to that of other (anonymous) farms. They will also receive £100 per full visit by the AFBI staff. In addition to the direct benefits for the participating farms, this project will generate scientific knowledge to future-proof the Northern Irish dairy industry, thus benefiting the sector as a whole.

Farm visits

Participating farms will be visited by AFBI staff on agreed dates. During the visits, the staff will carry out an assessment of the herd’s health and behaviour using the Welfare Quality protocol. This is an internationally recognized scientific assessment protocol that covers many different aspects, for instance assessing lameness, disease symptoms, and how the cows behave towards other cows and humans. Farmers will be asked to provide information on the time spent on different activities, their skills, production data and veterinary care.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the project, or would like to participate, is invited to contact Laura McAnally (email: laura.mcanally@afbini.gov.uk, phone: 028 9268 1573)

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