Sharing is caring: The importance of data-driven management in livestock food production
New opportunities to improve animal welfare and drive value across the entire industry
Data sharing in livestock management and food production- the power to make a huge difference!
Data sharing is one of the most exciting new arenas in livestock food production and monitoring. Emerging initiatives around aggregating and analyzing livestock monitoring, milking, nutrition and other data are opening new opportunities to improve animal welfare and drive value across the entire chain.
Livestock monitoring generates a lot of data, as do milking solutions, and feed producers and genetics service companies. The data each enterprise generates is certainly useful to them and their customers, but only to a point. When it comes to farm data, the sum is greater than the whole. That is, there’s a whole lot more that can be achieved in terms of cow wellness and productivity, as well as financial benefits, by aggregating and analyzing it all.
Current barriers to sharing data
It’s only once farmers can see clear economic benefits to sharing data that this field will get even close to its potential. But there are some significant barriers to reaching this goal.
The first is the nature of our industry, which is conservative and protective of data, despite the known benefits, and workarounds to protect trade secrets.
The second barrier is that currently, there is no comprehensive aggregation platform. Many companies are seeking to be the IT provider to the industry. But not every company is equipped to do so.
The companies working in this field are approaching this challenge in one of two ways: either as a platform provider only, and as a result are distancing themselves from direct communication with farmers and farm operations; or as an enhancement to their current portfolio, making it hard to be open to the industry as they may have conflicts of interest. In both cases, it is difficult to establish the trust needed for the various players to expose their data.
And the third problem is expertise. Data from a livestock perspective is a new type of data science. At the moment, each shareholder knows how to handle their particular data, but no one quite knows how to aggregate and analyze the data from all relevant sources. While there are academic projects and government-sponsored initiatives in the works, like D4Dairy in Austria, this is an emerging field with quite a distance to go.
Improving efficiency and profitability
One of the best ways to encourage data sharing is through the bottom-line factor. That is, by showing value to those that share.
Let’s consider a genetics company that wants to sell premium services, with a certain promise, at an extra cost. Unfortunately, most of the genotypes and phonotypes are still proven using traditional traits versus those that could be gained from using sensors on cows transmitting varied states of eating, resting and stress.
Or, look at feed, which accounts for over 50% of farm expenses. Typically, the feed companies select data highlights to show why farmers should buy from them. But more can be done to correlate that feed data with cow behavior trends seen by monitoring at the group level.
To this end, there are already some initiatives at work. Here at Allflex, we’re developing professional tools that provide multi-farm, cross-disciplinary insight, which in turn give nutrition, veterinarian, genetics, and other farm service companies a better way to show their value across numerous parameters, while enhancing the performance of their products and services.
Data sharing has a positive impact on animal welfare
Another central concern of dairy producers and consumers is the growing focus on animal welfare. As such many food companies are looking to connect farm data with commercial messaging focused on farm-to-fork traceability and animal welfare. For this, of course, they need multiple forms of data that have been shared along the supply chain.
How it’s done is through partnership. For example, Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, chose to work with Allflex to reinforce its commitment to animal welfare. This is being done through a pilot program using the Allflex SenseHub solution to monitor the overall wellbeing of cows according to a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) – including reproductive, health, nutritional and wellbeing status of individual cows and groups. With this data, Nestlé consumers can be more confident in the food they feed their families, knowing that their dairy products have been made with milk from happy, healthy cows. But it takes data sharing to get there.
The future of data sharing is here
Data sharing is the way of future, and it’s happening now. But there are so many new gadgets, monitoring sensors, and cameras coming out, we’ll soon be overwhelmed with information.
Allflex monitoring data is sure to play a major role in turning all that information into real insight for farmers and the wider dairy food supply chain. As we see it, Allflex is in a unique position here, already gathering sensor data from millions of cows on tens of thousands of farms worldwide. And that’s no trivial matter. Farm data, after all, isn’t like gathering internet usage data, which simply requires adding a cookie in a browser, with no need to send trucks or install equipment.
That means the future of farm data requires more than just know-how. It’s about reach and logistics as well, both areas in which our large install base of livestock monitoring systems and electronic identification products gives us a clear lead.
Sharing livestock monitoring and other farm data has the power to make a huge difference
The livestock farming industry is at the forefront of the global effort to feed more people in a more sustainable, efficient, and safe manner. Connecting all the stakeholders throughout the farm-to-fork supply chain and allowing them to collaborate by way of data integrations and analysis is key to meeting this enormous challenge.
The question is how? For starters, it’s about making a mental shift, to recognize that data sharing opens great potential for financial, animal welfare, and productivity gains.