Now and into the future
DairyNZ has a history of investigating technologies on behalf of farmers. This includes the Greenfields automatic milking systems project; evaluating milking efficiency in conventional dairies; investigating individualised feeding; and the Precision Dairy project. These projects have been funded by DairyNZ in partnership with the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Primary Growth Partnership or Sustainable Farming Fund.
- Potentially detect heats and illness early, or without doing a visual assessment.
- Can help reduce workloads for key people.
- Can help staff who are less experienced in animal husbandry.
- Sometimes provide false alerts, e.g. identifies a cow as needing attention when she doesn’t.
- In financial terms, payback of some devices can be marginal or non-existent depending on the farm system situation.
- Good for specific tasks, e.g. communication, information updates, feed calculations.
- Usually free or cheap; regularly updated and improved.
- Can be used while you’re on the go, e.g. entering data while you’re in the paddock.
- Some apps only work when you have internet connectivity.
- Data is sometimes stored on the app – lose your phone, lose your data.
- Not all team members may have smartphones.
- The ‘traditional’ box-style automatic milking systems (AMS) have been proven to work in pasture-based systems – there are around 20 AMS farms in NZ.
- Automatic milking rotaries (AMR) for batch milking are commercially available now, with a milking efficiency (cows milked per hour) similar to conventional rotaries.
- Compared with conventional dairies, box-style AMS have lower milking efficiency. They require cows to ‘voluntarily’ milk over 24 hours, and bring higher capital cost, so have implications for farm system management and farm size.
- High throughput AMR are currently prohibitively expensive for most NZ farmers.
- Accurately and frequently measures pasture mass by satellite (but see first bullet point in the ‘cons’ list below).
- Saves you the time spent walking paddocks, and automatically updates the feed wedge.
- In future, may be able to measure soil moisture and pasture composition.
- Measurement accuracy and frequency issues (due to terrain and cloud cover) experienced on some NZ farms.
- Doesn’t do everything for you – you’ll still need to assess the next few paddocks to make good allocation decisions.
- Lowers fencing costs, especially around riparian areas.
- Allows you to move stock with a few swipes on your computer/smartphone.
- You can potentially collect animal wellbeing and oestrus data from the same collar.
- Only just being released commercially – needs time to be proven.
- Benefits may be limited to keeping animals out of riparian areas.
- The social acceptability of controlling animals via a collar is still to be determined.
Virtual farm manager (future)
- Artificial intelligence systems will use different data sources and smart computing to suggest actions to take on-farm.
- Will automate some jobs and/or help staff with limited prior farm experience.
- Would make farming more innovative, helping to attract different employees.
- Ideally, will lead to better, proactive decisions for smarter decisions.
- Don’t expect to see these available soon – they’re still on the horizon.
- How willing are you to rely on a virtual manager?
If you have any questions about this article, please email DairyNZ senior scientist Callum Eastwood at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy May 2019