An enterprising Taranaki farmer isn’t following the herd when it comes to innovation – he’s flying above it instead thanks to a $1000 drone aircraft.
Hayden Fowles, who farms 12km south of New Plymouth, said high-tech help is proving invaluable when it comes to herding his 188 Friesian cross cows for milking, saving time and helping him spot sick animals.
Set on 75 hectares, Fowles’ farm is a mix of flat and rolling paddocks and travel by two wheeler farm bike can be hazardous on a wet day, he said.
But Fowles said his eye in the sky allowed him to follow the cows from above as they headed to milking each afternoon.
“I have an automatic gate timer set to open the paddock gates at 2.50pm, and I set the drone up soon after that to follow them,” he said.
“The cows go at their own pace as soon as the automatic gates open and the drone follows them single file to the shed.”
The technology is saving him between 40 minutes to an hour a day in herding the cows.
“It’s a lot quicker now than when I had to use the bike.
“I was having to get off the two wheeler and doing a lot of walking to get the cows in for milking, especially on some of the hillier paddocks.
Fowles can identify any lameness, or sickness in the herd a lot sooner than if he was on a bike, or foot.
“The lameness rate has been cut back dramatically,” he said.
Although he had heard of cows bolting when a drone was above them, Fowles said his herd were not disturbed by the drone overhead.
The battery powered Mavic aircraft flies at a maximum 100 meters above the herd, meaning Fowles doesn’t have to alert civil aviation authorities when he is flying it.
He referred to the Airshare website for aviation guidelines.
He doesn’t operate it during early morning milkings when the light is poor.
“As long as I’m flying under 100m and it’s in line of sight, I’m okay.”
But what he is really excited about is the improvement in health and safety – a daily issue for farmers.
“The drone is more of a safety thing for me.
“It means a lot less time I’m on and off the two wheeler and I don’t need to go on to the steeper land.
A Canadian startup company whose invention lets dairy farmers check the quality of milk from individual cows is getting $1 million to set up shop in Buffalo.
SomaDetect is the grand prize winner of the fourth annual 43North competition. The New York state-sponsored contest is meant to bring economic development to western New York by awarding cash and incubator space to winners who pitch ideas from all over the world.
SomaDetect’s sensor technology allows farmers to detect illness in cows or impurities in milk. The company was established in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but must operate in Buffalo for at least a year.
The runner-up company, Squire, received $650,000 during Thursday night’s awards. The New York City company’s app allows users to book and pay for haircuts at participating barbershops.
“We’re generating a lot of data every day from a bunch of different systems—a feed system, a milk system, how much milk you actually ship. And none of those systems talk to each other,” Breunig says.
Victor Cabrera, associate professor in the UW-Madison Department of Dairy Science, is heading up a multidisciplinary team of UW scientists that aims to create a “virtual dairy farm brain” that will help farmers make better management decisions. Photo by Ted Halbach/UW-Madison Department of Dairy Science.
The upshot is that while Breunig has access to great data, he can’t use it the way he’d like. For example, he’d like to have a daily report of his feed efficiency—pounds of milk produced per pound of feed consumed—so he could adjust his rations to improve profitability. But it’s a pain to calculate because it requires data from his feed management software, written notes on tanker weight, and reports texted from his milk buyer.
“You can enter it by hand, but you haven’t got the time, so you don’t do it for a week, and then you go back and do the data, and you cram it in,” he says. “Unless you’re doing it every day it’s hard to get it right. You’re always looking way too far in the rearview mirror. The data is generated every day. We should be able to look at it every day.”
There ought to be an app for that, and soon there could be. A multidisciplinary team of University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists has set out to create a “virtual dairy farm brain” that will collect and integrate all of a farm’s data streams in real time and then use artificial intelligence to analyze those data to help farmers make better management decisions.
The dairy industry really needs to get to this level in data management, says team leader Victor E. Cabrera, a UW-Madison dairy science professor who develops software that helps dairy farmers evaluate their management options.
“Dairy farms have embraced a lot of technologies that generate vast amounts of data,” he says. “The problem is that farmers haven’t been able to integrate this information to improve whole-farm decision-making.”
The UW team, which includes dairy scientists, agricultural economists and computer scientists, is starting out by streaming data on about 4,000 cows in three Wisconsin herds (including Breunig’s) to a campus-based server. This is no simple task, because dairy operations generate so many types of data from so many sources—everything from pounds of feed consumed and pounds of milk produced to how many times a cow chews (rumination), how many steps she takes and her internal temperature. Plus there are sire records and genomic tests and other data on each cow, and data from off the farm about things like weather, and prices of milk and feed.
UW dairy scientists are no strangers to data management, but wrangling so many streams of disparate data in real time requires a specialized skill set. That’s why they’re collaborating with the UW’s Center for High Throughput Computing.
“It’s not just a matter of having access to systems that can handle big data sets. We also need the expertise to filter it. We are collecting a lot of data, but a lot of it is repetitious or not relevant. We need to be able to filter out the noise and attach identifiers to each type of data. To do this in real time is not a trivial thing,” Cabrera says.
The computer science expertise is also key to the project’s second step: Using artificial intelligence to predict more accurately the outcome of various management options. The computer scientists will devise algorithms that analyze what’s happening on the farms—which inputs result in which outcomes—and to learn from that to do a better job of predicting.
The final step will be to apply what they’ve learned to create intuitive, cloud-based decision-support tools that allow farmers to use real-time data from their farms to make smarter management decisions.
In addition to Breunig’s Mystic Valley Farm near Sauk City, the team is streaming data from Larson Acres near Evansville and the UW dairy science department’s own research herd. The team looked for farms reasonably close to campus that were already generating and using lots of data—including genomic information on every cow. They also wanted operations that were very well managed.
“We called this project the virtual dairy farm brain because we’re trying to mimic the thinking of a very good dairy farm manager,” says Cabrera. “We’re going to start by seeing what the manager decides to do with the data and then see what our system would come up with as potentially the best decision.”
When the two-year project is complete, Cabrera hopes to follow it up with a larger study involving 100–200 farms representing a variety of sizes and management styles.
“We think the methodology should apply to any farm. It could be adjusted to suit whatever data are available,” Cabrera says. “The basic approach would be very similar on a 100-cow farm or an 8,000-cow operation. The concept would not be different as long as you have good quality data. And every farm is generating data. It’s just a question of how it’s used.”
Imagine if you could understand what cows are trying to say when they moo, bawl or bellow.
It’s possible you might not really care to learn a cow’s language but for cattle producers, like dairy farmers, that skill could prove invaluable.
PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, Alexandra Green, is studying cattle bioacoustics, or “cow-moo-nication” as she likes to say.
The young scientist is recording the vocalisations of dairy heifers and trying to work out what they are saying in response to different farming contexts.
“We don’t think that they have a specific call for say, feeding, heat stress and isolation,” Ms Green said.
“It’s more that the features of their call changes depending on how aroused or how stressed they are.”
While a full analysis has not yet been completed, early research findings include a study of the partial isolation of cattle.
“I separated a heifer for half an hour from her herd and she could see her herd,” Ms Green said.
“That was the least stressful, based on her vocalisation, so the pitch of her call was a lot lower there.
“Usually what happens when the animal becomes more excited or more stressed, the pitch of their vocalisation increases, their calling rate will increase, so they’ll start vocalising a lot more [and] the duration of the call might extend as well.
“There’s still a bit of analysis that I have to do, but based on the preliminary findings, there are differences between the contexts based on just these call features.”
Ms Green said that understanding what cows were saying could change the way dairy farmers managed their herds.
“At the moment we have to map out the vocal repertoire of the cattle [and] work out what they’re saying before we do apply any technology,” she said.
“Further down the track, we could potentially use this as a behaviour monitoring tool to help assist farmers monitor the condition of their animal at an individual level.
“They might be able detect heat stress with it or when there’s a welfare-compromising situation on farm and that could alert the farmer to go attend to this heifer they’re vocalising.
“It is done in pigs so we’re hoping to mimic that down the track but first of all, we’ve just got to find out what they’re saying.”
At this stage of the research, only the vocals of dairy heifers are being recorded.
“It’s bit hard to record cows if they’re in milking because they’ve got to be milked twice a day, but if I’ve got the dry heifers, I can have them for the whole time and record them throughout the day,” Ms Green said.
“Hopefully down the track I’ll get to look at cows or older animals because the calls and the vocalisation change as the animals age and as they get larger, so it’ll be interesting to compare between heifers and cows.”
Ms Green said dairy farmers were so far excited by the research.
“I was speaking to one before and he was saying, with consumers becoming more aware of farming practices and more interested, we want to show them that we have happy, healthy cows,” she said.
“So if we can work out what they’re saying, [we can] show the public ‘look this is a happy cow, she’s saying this’.
“It’s just a new, novel way of working out what the animal is saying and monitoring behaviour.”
Vickie Baker is a farm consultant in southwestern Pennsylvania who sees dairies struggling to find workers all the time. It’s hard to attract people to physically demanding, dirty farm work. That’s especially true at dairies, where cows need to be milked year-round, several times a day, including the middle of the night.
But Baker also has first-hand experience with the problem. A few years ago, one of two workers she and her husband employed to milk 60 cows at their business, Maple Bottom Farm, abruptly quit.
“After 16 years of working for us, she sent us a text message and gave us two weeks notice,” she said.
Locals weren’t interested in the work. Many dairies rely on immigrant labor, often undocumented. But Baker said the few Hispanic immigrants she employed didn’t feel at home in that part of rural Pennsylvania and moved away.
“We knew at that point in time that we were either going to have a robot or we weren’t going to milk cows,” she said. So last year she and her husband, Mike, took out a loan and invested in an automated milking system that cost about $250,000.
The cows decide when to be milked — their udders feel full or they’re keen to get raspberry chocolate pellets as a treat during milking.
The first step is to pass through something like a security gate. Each cow’s ear holds a digital tag with her personal identification number, which gets scanned.
“There’s only one for each cow in the U.S.,” Baker said. “It’s like a cow Social Security number.”
If the cow’s not due for milking, she can’t gain access. If she waits too long, the Bakers get alerts on their phones and go nudge the cow.
Next, the cows make their way into a kind of lactation waiting room to await their turn at the robot. Some are more aggressive than others in pushing to the front of the line. When a cow’s turn comes up, she passes through another gate into a small, closet-sized chamber, where a robot scans her ID and pulls up her data.
“It just recognized her as cow 430,” Baker said as a cow stepped forward. “Her name is Pita, like pita pocket.”
Amanda Freund remembers the exact moment when her uncle, Ben Freund, raised the idea of bringing a robotic milking system to the family’s dairy farm.
“It was January, 2015, and we were in the office, just there next to where those cows are,” she says, gesturing past the group of dry cows (the ones preparing to have their calves) that are grazing in one of the Freund barns. “And at the time, I was really perplexed. Like, how do we even begin to take on that kind of financial burden?”
Located in the northwest corner of Connecticut, in East Canaan, the Freund farm was established in 1949, when Amanda’s grandparents, Eugene and Esther Freund, began tilling the land. Today, the 200-acre farm is a thoroughly modern – and sustainable – operation, complete with more than 700 solar panels that meet the farm’s entire energy needs and a methane digester for converting manure into biogas that, in turn, heats the Freund’s house.
But the idea of installing enough robotic milking machines to service the Freund’s 300 dairy cows was an entirely different sort of modernization project. It would require a brand new barn for housing the new machines and a hefty amount of capital. The Lely Astronaut A4, the model they were eyeing, retails for around $250,000. One robot can handle up to 60 cows, so the Freunds would need five.
It would be worth the cost, the family decided. At the time, they were spending twelve hours a day on milking alone (six hours at noon and six hours at midnight), but with Amanda and her siblings coming into the age at which they could start thinking about taking over the farm’s ownership and management, they needed a way to free up their time so they could focus on the aspects of the business that best fit their skills and personalities.
“The system is very expensive, but the reason that we did it was looking ahead, and looking at the fact that my generation, we don’t want to spend 12 hours a day stuck in a milking parlor. We want to be a lot more involved in the individualized cow care, and my brother would much rather be out in the fields doing cropping,” Amanda says. “And so, we decided that this is a really important aspect to our succession plan.”
A Lely Astronaut A4 robot milks one of the Freund family’s 300 dairy cows.
The Lely Astronauts (so named because the only place the cow is connected to the machine is on the udder, “like how an astronaut is connected to a spaceship,” says Peter Langebeeke, the president of Lely’s North America business) were installed in March 2016. Fifteen months later, the Freunds are already feeling the benefits of the decision, if not a full return on investment just yet.
“Like the other day, I was at the capital, Amanda and my father were in Alaska, my Uncle Ben was dealing with something in New York, and basically [our younger sister] Rachel was on the farm by herself,” Amanda’s younger brother Isaac, explains. Pre-robots, that workload would have been unmanageable for the younger Freund sister.
The Lely system works by supplying each cow with a digital collar — think a bovine Fitbit — that monitors her activity, her chewing and her rumination (basically, her regurgitation and second chewing of the food). The cows have been trained to go to an Astronaut when she feels like she needs to release milk (in addition to feeling a sensation similar to what a lactating woman may feel right before she nurses her child or pumps milk, the robots emit a special kind of feed that the cows are eager to consume), and when she does this, the robot gets the information from the collar to know exactly which cow it is dealing with. If, for example, it is one that produces 90 pounds of milk a day, the Astronaut knows to apportion her with more feed than what it might give a cow that produces 60 pounds a day. The Astronaut will apportion the feed at a rate that keeps the cow at the machine for the duration of the milking; when each quarter of the udder has been milked to its capacity, the Astronaut will release the cow’s teats and she is free to roam back to her bunk.
The system runs 24/7, which means that each cow can go to the robot whenever she wants, and not just at noon and midnight. It also means that if a cow is producing enough milk to get milked thee times a day, that can now happen — and without human intervention. Going from two milkings a day to three can, in turn, can boost a cow’s milk output by 15%. But Amanda and Lely executives say the “without human intervention” part of the equation is just as important as increased dairy output.
“This all started with trying to get more freedom for our cows,” Lely’s Langebeeke said. “If a cow is not relaxed and is stressed, she doesn’t let the milk go.”
Thanks to the new system — which includes an online dashboard that curates all of the data being collected by the digital collars and the Astronauts — Amanda and her family know more about each cow than ever before. They can set up alerts so that they’re notified when a cow appears to be “in heat” (at an optimal moment to receive bull semen); they can track when a cow’s activity drops and intervene with fluids or a bovine version of Gatorade before medicine becomes necessary; and they can, of course, see exactly how much milk their herd is producing (the meter read a precise 22,684 pounds for the prior 24 hours one recent morning).
It’s the kind of technology that Eugene and Esther Freund couldn’t have ever imagined when they started the farm in 1949. But they also probably would have been hard pressed to envision that Connecticut’s then-6,200 dairy farms would be whittled down to 118 by the time their grandchildren were old enough to take over farm management. Fortunately for their legacy, Amanda and her siblings seem determined to not let the Freund Farm be casualty number 6,003.
“It’s not an industry you’re in because you’re making a lot of money, and it never will be. And it’s probably not the right business to be in if that’s what you wanted,” Amanda says. “But I’m here because I’m tilling and harvesting off of the same land that my grandpa was growing crops on 70 years ago. And I think that’s the coolest thing, and if we can get to a point where we actually celebrate 100 years of farming here, that would be awesome.”
DeLaval has released the Rotary E100 at Fieldays. The new dairy system has a cockpit within arms length of the cow bales.
DeLaval has designed a new rotary dairy system aimed for New Zealand farming conditions.
Launched at Fieldays, the Rotary E100 took the dairy farm machinery company three years to design with the aim of combining the best of all of the existing milking shed technologies while being durable and operator and animal friendly.
DeLaval Oceania sales director Justin Thompson said the rotary was designed for pasture-based systems and the needs of the New Zealand farmer.
“It’s about trying to ensure that the technology that has been created in the last 15 years is integrated into these systems in a seamless nature.”
He described it as a “single solution from a single provider”, without needing integration with other systems.
“It’s teat to tank, with all the things in between.”
Thompson said rotary systems in the past had tended to be “cobbled together”, especially after electronic tags for livestock were widely adopted by the industry.
He said the new system looked at milking cows from a farm management perspective.
“What we have tried to do in this development and on-farm testing is look at how we can do milk extraction in an efficient manner, focusing on farm profitability, animal safety, worker safety and making sure there was the best solution for the New Zealand farmer.”
The rotary could be upgraded with farmers able to start with a basic system and add features to it according to their profitability, he said.
The system features a cockpit which is set up next to the rotary platform and is designed to allow farmers to run an entire shed within an arm’s length of where they stood.
It was designed so that one person could operate the milking shed at any time. Each bale can come with a teat sprayer that can apply the spray after milking.
“We have a lot of the technologies that make the milking a truly one person shed.”
Generally, the core of the system – the cockpit and rotary controls – could not be retro-fitted onto an existing rotary. Some of the components could be fitted onto a herringbone shed, he said.
The E100 ranged from a fairly basic system to a fully automated rotary that registers cows when they enter the platform, informs the farmer all the information about the cow at each bale including production and medical alerts.
“If she’s mixed up in the wrong herd and shouldn’t be milked, it will put out an alert before you put the cups on.”
For the New Zealand market, the maximum size rotary that can be built is 80 bales with 50, 54 and 60 bales the three most common sizes and the starting price was $7500 per bale.
DeLaval will have a six-bale rotary demonstrating the new system at their site at Fieldays.
It has been tested on a 500-cow Tirau farm last season and farm owner Jack Scheres said they had never seen animals so calm in a cowshed.
“We’d never worked with DeLaval before. We’ve always thought they imported their technology, so we’ve been pleasantly surprised to see this system developed here for New Zealand dairy conditions.”
“It identifies the cow as she comes in, it tells me milk production or milk loss, and it will automatically draft any cow based on parameters I set,” sharemilker Chap Zweirs said.
Genetic researchers in China claim they have successfully edited the bovine genome to make it resistant to bovine tuberculosis.
In a study published in Genome Biology, the team of scientists at Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi, China say they used CRISPR Cas9n technology to introduce the resistant gene to 11 calves.
The team inserted the nucleus of the donor cells into bovine ova. The embryos were then transferred into recipient cows. The new calves have shown increased resistance to bovine TB. The scientists believe this is the first time Cas9n technology has been used in livestock.
CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology has been used for the first time to successfully produce live cows with increased resistance to bovine tuberculosis, reports new research published in the open access journal Genome Biology.
The researchers, from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi, China, used a modified version of the CRISPR gene-editing technology to insert a new gene into the cow genome with no detected off target effects on the animals genetics (a common problem when creating transgenic animals using CRISPR).
Dr Yong Zhang, lead author of the research, said: “We used a novel version of the CRISPR system called CRISPR/Cas9n to successfully insert a tuberculosis resistance gene, called NRAMP1, into the cow genome. We were then able to successfully develop live cows carrying increased resistance to tuberculosis. Importantly, our method produced no off target effects on the cow genetics meaning that the CRISPR technology we employed may be better suited to producing transgenic livestock with purposefully manipulated genetics.”
CRISPR technology has become widely used in the laboratory in recent years as it is an accurate and relatively easy way to modify the genetic code. However, sometimes unintentional changes to the genetic code occur as an off target effect, so finding ways to reduce these is a priority for genomics research.
Dr Zhang explained: “When you want to insert a new gene into a mammalian genome, the difficulty can be finding the best place in the genome to insert the gene. You have to hunt through the genome, looking for a region that you think will have the least impact on other genes that are in close proximity. We employed a meticulous and methodological approach to identify the best suited region for gene insertion, which we show has no detectable off target effects on the bovine genome”.
The researchers inserted the NRAMP1 gene into the genome of bovine foetal fibroblasts – a cell derived from female dairy cows – using the CRISPR/Cas9n technology. These cells were then used as donor cells in a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, where the nucleus of a donor cell carrying the new gene is inserted into an egg cell, known as an ovum, from a female cow. Ova were nurtured in the lab into embryos before being transferred into mother cows for a normal pregnancy cycle. The experiments were also conducted using the standard CRISPR/Cas9 technology as a comparison.
A total of 11 calves with new genes inserted using CRISPR were able to be assessed for resistance to tuberculosis and any off target genetic effects. Genetic analysis of the calves revealed that NRAMP1 had successfully integrated into the genetic code at the targeted region in all of the calves. None of the calves that had the gene inserted using the new CRISPR/Cas9n technology had any detectable off target effects whereas all of the calves with the gene inserted with previously used techniques for CRISPR/Cas9 did.
When the calves were exposed to M. bovis, the bacterium that causes bovine tuberculosis, the researchers found that transgenic animals showed an increased resistance to the bacteria measured by standard markers of infection in a blood sample. They also found that white blood cells taken from the calves were much more resistant to M. bovis exposure in laboratory tests.
Dr Zhang said: “Our study is the first demonstrating that the CRISP/Cas9n system can be used to create transgenic livestock with no detectable off target effects. Our work has led to the discovery of a useful position in the bovine genome that can be targeted with this gene editing technology to successfully insert new genes that benefit agricultural livestock.”
Siri and Alexa already help you find your keys and remember friends’ birthdays. So maybe it’s not such a stretch that they could also also manage a few hundred cattle.
Computer scientists and dairy experts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the UW Extension are collaborating to create a suite of computer programs that can help with dairy farming — a “virtual brain” that uses artificial intelligence to help farmers with day-to-day decision-making.
According to Victor Cabrera, a UW-Madison dairy science professor and the project’s principal investigator, modern farms are already equipped with sophisticated data-collecting technology. Cows wear sensors that can track heat and motion, giving farmers insight into whether a cow may be in heat or ill. Soil and crop monitoring systems influence feeding decisions. Milking robots keep track of which cows are fidgety, whether a cow’s udders are healthy, the composition of the milk a cow produces.
“All of this information exists,” said Cabrera. “A big leap we want to do in this project is connect different sources of information.”
Integrating the different streams of data would be the first step. Then, the challenge would be to fuse prior research on agricultural data with machine learning — in other words, computer programs that have been taught to adapt based on new information — to create artificial intelligence systems that can assess that data in real time.
That AI could provide insights to help farmers in all kinds of ways, said Cabrera. Consider reproductive decisionmaking, he said. When it comes to selecting animals to breed, farmers have to use their old-fashioned human brains to consider multiple sources of data, from semen quality to a cow’s market value to a heifer’s fertility.
“In a farm brain, it should be able to do that on the fly,” he said.
Same for milking parlor decisions, said Cabrera. A dairy farm AI could help farmers weed out cows that for whatever reason end up taking a longer time to milk, and adjust milking schedules accordingly.
“It’s simple, but it’s actually a great help to the farmers,” said Cabrera. “If you have a group being milked, that one cow can delay the whole group of animals.”
Cabrera noted that this would ideally be a real-time system of applications that would ping farmers with prescriptive and predictive suggestions in real time.
“When the farm comes into the office, they should be told by the system, this cow should not be bred anymore,” he said. “And for this cow, they should be bred with better semen.”
The three-year research project to create the brain is still in its nascent stages. Cabrera said that the core group of scientists working on the brain are still putting together a team and looking at potential grants, but that the work should begin in earnest this summer. He said that they have found a “progressive” farm located in south-central Wisconsin that has volunteered to be the project’s guinea pig.
The project is among 21 proposals that recently received money through the UW2020 awards initiative, which looks to give a boost to high-risk, innovative research ventures.
VIRTUAL fencing for cattle is set to be commercially available later this year, following Melbourne-based agri-tech company Agersens’ success in raising $2 million.
Agersens’ eShepherd product enables farmers to ‘fence’, move, muster and monitor their livestock remotely via smart phone, and builds on patented technology originally developed by the CSIRO.
With eShepherd, farmers create a virtual fence on an app that communicates with a collar worn by each animal. Animals are trained to respond to prompts provided by the collar, which can also collect data to help farmers improve animal health and make better farm management decisions.
Agersens managing director Ian Reilly said there was a global market for the Australian innovation, with demand from cattle and dairy farmers in Australia, NZ, the US, South America, Europe, and South Africa.
“eShepherd will transform the productivity, profitability and sustainability of global livestock farming by automating rotational or cell grazing, avoiding overgrazing while improving animal health and welfare. eShepherd will improve profitability by cutting labour, fencing and other input costs,” he said.
“It has impact a number of levels – not only does it help farmers and livestock, but it can be used as flood and fireproof fencing to prevent cattle pollution of waterways and national parks while avoiding injury to wildlife associated with conventional fencing.”
This internet-of-things GPS based animal wearable device will be the first of its kind to be deployed on farms anywhere in the world – a disruptive technology that generates a win-win for agriculture and the value of precious land and water resources.
Investors in the raising include international agricultural innovation powerhouse Gallagher, which has taken a strategic stake, as well as sophisticated and experienced agri-tech investors who recognise the disruptive nature of the technology. The capital raising was led by Bell Potter Securities and supported by Chatsworth Associates.
Government is taking virtual fencing seriously, with the Federal Government granting Agersens $640,000 to accelerate commercialisation, and Dairy Australia last year awarded $2.6m to lead a four-year industry testing program. Victorian and NSW Government based Catchment Management Authorities and Local Land Services are providing funding support for trials on rivers and wetlands. Agersens has an ongoing working relationship with CSIRO, continuing development to help access new geographical and livestock markets.
A dairy industry supplier says technology is helping producers monitor more of their cow’s activities.
Ken Berberich from Afimilk tells Brownfield activity monitors have been a part of managing dairy cattle for nearly 20 years, but now, the technology can keep track of nearly every movement and help herd managers catch problems earlier. “We can also record now off that same sensor if a cow stands up in it’s stall and lays down, and stands back up and lays down, and this is a sign to go check that cow probably for lameness because what it’s doing is it’s recording the cow is getting up and it’s not wanting to walk to go get water or go get feed.”
Sensor technology is also telling producers what’s in the milk as it leaves the cow.
“Every four centimeters of milk that comes through the meter when the cow is being milked, we’re also recording fat, protein, lactose, and blood through the cow. By doing this, we can set up a PH level in the milk that will determine if the cow is having early signs of ketotic conditions or we can also check feed rations.”
He says modern sensors can detect everything from motion to heat and calving, allowing managers to take care of issues sooner.
Gene editing can complement traditional breeding in enhancing food sustainability and animal health and welfare, according to a renowned animal geneticist.
Examining the potential benefits of the biotechnology tool at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), University of California, Davis professor and biotechnology expert Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam said genome editing can enable animal breeds to bring about beneficial genetic changes without unwanted, potentially harmful ones.
Breeding Hornless Cows
The animal scientist discovered the potential of splicing the “hornless” gene from the Aberdeen Angus cow into the prevalent black-and-white Holstein dairy cows for the purpose of eliminating their protrusions.
Horned cattle are deemed potentially risky for their handlers, other stock, and the public. Without such horns, cows are considered easier to pack into their pens as well as in trucks, something estimated to save the livestock industry in the United Kingdom millions of pounds every year.
Few breeds including the Angus and Hereford are born without horns. Most dairy cows then undergo a painful dehorning process while they are still calves.
Potential Benefits For Food Animals
Van Eenennaam looked to the dairy industry to emphasize the potential value of gene editing in livestock production. A glass of milk these days, she said, is linked to a mere one-third of greenhouse gas emissions needed to produce the same in the 1940s, thanks to headways in traditional breeding practices.
Through conventional selective breeding, dairy cows’ productivity are believed to have improved despite the number of U.S. dairy cows dropping from 25.6 million in 1944 to around 9 million at present. The country experiences a 1.6-fold climb in total milk production, argued the scientist.
“A number of breeding methods, including artificial insemination, embryo transfer, crossbreeding and, more recently, genomic selection, have been used to achieve these improvements,” said Van Eenennaam in a statement, adding that gene editing could complement such techniques by introducing desirable traits into the breeding initiatives.
Gene editing is already being used for disease prevention in livestock, such as making pigs immune to porcine reproductive and respiratory virus. In the future, it is also deemed possible for farm animals to produce offspring of only a specific gender, including hens for their eggs.
One, however, shouldn’t count on genetically designed hornless cows anytime soon, as regulators have not approved genetically engineered animals’ entry into the food chain. The possibility of applying these genome-editing methods, according to Van Eenennaam, still rests on future regulatory decisions.
She clarified that gene editing won’t transfer novel DNA into the animals, but instead can perform tweaks within their genes. The resulting DNA sequence may be identical to the natural existing DNA sequences.
Also recently, the battle over the patent to gene-editing breakthrough CRISPR came to an end as Cambridge-based Broad Institute retained lucrative rights to the technology. CRISPR has garnered such massive attention with its precision in editing letters in an organism’s DNA, much like a pair of molecular scissors.
It could lead the way to new treatments and disease cures but has also received ethical questions such as in the matter of altering the human embryo.
These are exciting days for agri technology companies as they bring new concepts to the market to help farmers increase productivity.
The market for agricultural robots is developing at a rapid pace, with a large number of established and startup agricultural technology companies developing, piloting, and launching an innovative range of robotic systems to tackle a wide variety of tasks. Key application areas for agricultural robots include driverless tractors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), material management, field crops and forest management, soil management, dairy management, and animal management, with a diverse set of subcategories emerging within each of those areas.
According to a new report from Tractica, developed in collaboration with The Robot Report, shipments of agricultural robots will increase significantly in the years ahead, rising from 32,000 units in 2016 to 594,000 units annually in 2024, by which time the market is expected to reach $74.1 billion in annual revenue.
Driverless tractors, agricultural drones, material management robots, and soil management robots will drive the highest volumes in unit shipments.
“The rising demand for agricultural robots is being driven by a number of factors including global population growth, increasing strain on the food supply, declining availability of farm workers, the challenges, costs, and complexities of farm labor, changing farmlands, climate change, the growth of indoor farming, and the broader automation of the agriculture industry,” says Tractica research analyst Manoj Sahi.
If the dairy industry did not have access to artificial insemination today, would it have consumer support to use it? On face value it may seem unlikely that such a beneficial practice could ever be questioned, but there is a strong lesson from 1945 when A.I. was being introduced into the United States when there was a common misconception that its use would cause birth defects in calves.
These ‘facts’ were broadcast by bull breeders, who stood to lose significant market share and income from A.I. Whenever new technologies emerge, there are always legitimate doubts around safety and benefits, but there will always be some scaremongers raising doubts only to protect their patch.
Australian dairy research has had a proud and successful role to play in the many animal and plant DNA sequence advancements that continue to deliver substantial gains for our industry. One of the new plant technologies that shows the most promise is Genome Editing (GE).
This process can change the genetic structure of plants by removing genes that are not required. It allows the changing of genes within a plant rather than transgenic processes that insert gene material into the plant. GE could provide a quantum leap for our subtropical and tropical feed base by reducing the indigestible fibre portion of our plants.
Reducing our forage Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF) from 50 per cent to 40pc gives dairy farmers the potential to reduce feed costs by up to 50 cents, per cow, per day. There also have been exciting developments around drought and frost resistance in wheat and canola that will potentially help protect dairy from crop failure and associated spikes in feed prices.
These advancements might all be at risk if we do not bring the community and our consumers along with us. The increasing urban disconnect from modern rural practices mean we as an industry must continue to explain how dairying works. If we don’t, we risk getting caught up in the old saying – “a half-truth goes further and faster than a full one”.
The market for agricultural robots is developing at a rapid pace, with a large number of established and startup agricultural technology companies developing, piloting, and launching an innovative range of robotic systems to tackle a wide variety of tasks. Key application areas for agricultural robots include driverless tractors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), material management, field crops and forest management, soil management, dairy management, and animal management, with a diverse set of subcategories emerging within each of those areas.
According to a new report from Tractica, developed in collaboration with The Robot Report, shipments of agricultural robots will increase significantly in the years ahead, rising from 32,000 units in 2016 to 594,000 units annually in 2024, by which time the market is expected to reach $74.1 billion in annual revenue.
Driverless tractors, agricultural drones, material management robots, and soil management robots will drive the highest volumes in unit shipments.
“The rising demand for agricultural robots is being driven by a number of factors including global population growth, increasing strain on the food supply, declining availability of farm workers, the challenges, costs, and complexities of farm labor, changing farmlands, climate change, the growth of indoor farming, and the broader automation of the agriculture industry,” says Tractica research analyst Manoj Sahi.
Tractica’s report, “Agricultural Robots”, developed in collaboration with The Robot Report, examines global market trends for agricultural robots and provides 10-year market sizing and forecasts for agricultural robot shipments and revenue during the period from 2015 through 2024. The report examines the market opportunities, barriers, and technology issues for each of the key application markets. Market forecasts are segmented by world region and application type. The study also includes 178 profiles of industry players in the agricultural robot market.
Knowing when a cow is going to calve can improve calf survivability as assistance can be provided during difficult calvings and colostrum can be fed promptly after birth. Dystocia is defined as delayed or difficult parturition and is a major cause of weakness, morbidity, and mortality in calves and increases the incidence of postpartum disorders in cows. A prolonged and difficult calving may cause acidosis and hypoxia in the calf, which can negatively affect immunoglobulin G absorption and influence calf health and future production. Providing calves with high quality colostrum immediately after calving will increase calf survival by protecting the calf against diseases. Inadequate colostrum consumption shortly after birth can result in reduced growth rates, increased risk of disease and death, increased risk of being culled, and decreased milk production in their first lactation.
Observation during calving can be beneficial to both the dam and the calf; however, it is difficult to predict time of calving on the basis of visual signs alone. Using technology to identify cows in active labor can help minimize prolonged calving and improve the overall health and profitability of your operation. Researchers have found that almost 50% of all calf deaths within the first 24 hours after birth are a result of calving difficulty. While monitoring heifers and cows due to calve is vital in improving calf survival, it can be difficult to carry out as calvings can occur at any time of the day and night.
Calving sensors and temperature sensitive devices are available on the market that will send a text message to your cell phone, alerting you that a cow is calving. This technology can provide peace of mind as you will be warned of imminent calvings, allowing you to sleep peacefully. Here are brief descriptions of 4 calving alert systems. This list may not include all available products. No discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Penn State Extension or by the author is implied.
The Moocall is a non-invasive, tail-mounted sensor that measures tail movement patterns triggered by labor contractions. The device is placed on the tail of the cow opposite her vulva. When the cow reaches a certain level of intensity and tail movement, the Moocall sends a text alert to your cell phone; on average the alert happens 1 hour prior to calving. If calving has not occurred after 4 days, the device should be taken off for around 4 hours before placing it back on the tail. Moocall devices can be washed gently with a brush under running water after every calving and can last up to 5 years when properly maintained.
The AfiAct II Leg Tag is an automatic heat detection system that shows direct correlation between the timing of estrus and the cow’s increased walking activity. The sensor measures the walking, resting, and standing activity of cows and heifers. The AfiAct II now has incorporated a calving alert system that sends an alert wirelessly from a leg-mounted sensor to your cell phone within 4 hours from the onset of calving. The device will send another alert if calving is prolonged. It can integrate with AfiMilk’s farm and milking parlor system and also available as a standalone system.
The Cow Call is a compact light- and temperature-sensitive device that is inserted intravaginally up to 14 days prior to calving to measure spikes in body temperature. The device activates when the cow’s water breaks and it is pushed out; it will then detect light and send a message to your cell phone. The device can sync with up to 5 phones, and the inserts can be washed, sterilized, and reused for up to 2 years.
The Vel’Phone is a thermometer that is placed in the vaginal canal just behind the cervix approximately 7 to 10 days before expecting calving and informs you via text message of the day-to-day changes in temperature, the proximity of calving, and when a cow is in active labor. When the cow is within 36 to 48 hours of calving, her internal temperature will begin to significantly drop and a text message will be sent to your cell phone. Another text message will be sent when the thermometer is expelled when the water breaks to inform you of when the cow is in active labor. This device requires a radio base for collecting the thermometers’ data.
Calving sensors and temperature-sensitive devices can significantly improve calf survival, cow and calf health, and the profitability of your operation. These devices are an effective management tool that work well in combination with human observation of periparturient cattle.
BEEF producers have launched high level legal proceedings to halt a brazen bid by North American giants Cargill USA and Branhaven LLC to patent established cattle genetic selection techniques.
The granting of a broad Australian patent covering cattle selection methods that include genomic information will add significant costs to both ongoing research in the field and industry uptake of the game-changing technology, according to producer and science leaders.
Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), on behalf of producer levy payers, will appeal the decision by the Australian Patent Office (APO) in the Federal Court of Australia, with a hearing date set for 2017.
MLA’s managing director Richard Norton reported on the legal battle at the organisations’ annual general meeting this month in South Australia, saying if allowed to proceed to grant, the Cargill/Branhaven patent would affect the use of most DNA-associated genetic tests in the industry.
Leading cattle genetics researcher Professor Heather Burrow, from the University of New England at Armidale, said Australia and the US had collaboratively led the way with genomics research in cattle.
Prof Burrow is the former chief executive officer of Beef CRC, where beef genomics research began more than 20 years ago using cattle measurements that today underpins Australia’s world-leading quality assurance program Meat Standards Australia.
She said in five to ten years, it should be cost effective to test every seedstock and commercial animal in Australia as early as possible in life and to match the animal’s genomic information with the requirements of the most lucrative, premium beef markets.
“If genomic information can be routinely linked with NLIS (National Livestock Identification System) tags, this would provide the mechanism for feedlotters, processors and retailers to target those animals early in life and to provide incentives for producers to manage production to meet high-end market requirements,” she said.
That adds up to the most professional, elite, efficient and profitable beef industry possible.
“Australia is the only country in the world capable, at the moment, of setting up a value chain like that – totally focused on profitably and efficiency,” Prof Burrow said.
“The reason for that is we have NLIS, we have MSA that enables our producers to guarantee beef eating quality for both domestic and international consumers and we also have the genomic results that have been, and continue to be, delivered in direct collaboration with the best researchers in the world.
“This represents the core of science underpinning value based marketing and Australia’s efforts to target premium beef markets.
“Researchers have been deliberately targeting meat eating quality for the past 20 to 30 years in recognition of the fact Australia is an export-orientated beef producer and does not have the cattle numbers to compete on volume.”
Prof Burrow said it currently costs on average around $50 for an animal to be DNA-tested, with high-density SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism or DNA marker) panels and full genome sequence costing up to $1000.
However, research is ongoing to create lower density marker panels that will make it cost-effective for application in commercial as well as seedstock cattle.
What the patent will mean, if not revoked, is that Cargill USA and Branhaven can charge a licence fee for anybody using the 2500 odd SNPs included in its patent bid.
That will significantly increase the cost of testing for both industry application and research.
Prof Burrow said to achieve the full benefit of the technology, and provide through-chain incentives, as many animals as possible should be tested.
Where she sees an even larger impact of the patent, however, is in developing countries, where genomics has the ability to, in effect, skip a level of technology in livestock breeding and management.
“This has occurred, for example in many African countries where availability of mobile phones means there is no longer a need to establish land-line communication systems,” she said.
“At the moment, this patent application is only for Australia but its success here would encourage broader application – and it would definitely impact on the current research collaborations between Australia and several African countries.
“If applied in African countries, the patent would mean research is no longer feasible and application would probably need to be deferred until the patent expired. That would have a big effect on global food security.”
Researchers have expressed astonishment at the APO’s awarding of the patent in May on two grounds.
Firstly, the approval to patent DNA markers which, in the case of human breast cancer genes, Australia’s High Court deemed could not be patented because they are “naturally occurring variants” rather than inventive discoveries.
Secondly, because the horse has already bolted since the application of genomic SNPs in conjunction with trait information has been ongoing in beef and dairy cattle in Australia for the past 10 to 15 years.
“This would make it very difficult to retrospectively enforce the application of the patent through genomic selection in Australia or other countries,” Prof Burrow said.
Matt Barten, founder of Embruon, says technology now exists to sample a frozen embryo and genotype it, revealing gender and genetic makeup of an unborn calf. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)
A technology once limited to the research lab is moving mainstream. Just a few cells off a bovine embryo can tell a producer not only its genetic makeup and sex, but whether it will be the right fit for a particular breeder’s program.
This process uses genomic amplification, a way of multiplying DNA cellular information, to generate a genomic profile. Recently brought into commercial use, amplification allows use of a cellular sample so small it’s less likely to affect the viability of a frozen embryo.
The idea that someone could genetically test an embryo, place that same embryo in a recip cow and see a successful pregnancy started out as a dream for Kansas farm boy Matt Barten. While the process had been documented in research literature, there were barriers to taking it outside of the lab and making it a repeatable and reliable tool for the cattle industry.
“A lot of people said you can’t do it yet,” says Barten, who has a degree in animal science from Fort Hays State University, in Hays, Kansas. “Then I met the folks at GeneSeek, and they were willing, through research and development, to try to make this work.”
It was 2015 when Barten says he got an embryo DNA sample “clean enough to amplify” for a genomic profile. From there, Embruon was born, a Salina, Kansas, company that founder Barten defines as a “true start-up business.” Its beginnings go back to Barten’s work with John Hasler, a PhD in the field of reproductive technology with Vetoquinol USA, an animal pharmaceutical company based in Colorado.
Barten’s interest in pursuing full genomic profiles on cattle started as a challenge and became a passion.
“It’s hard to say why,” he explains. “I started doing ultrasounds, that led to fetal sexing and then to bovine embryo transfer work. Then you take another step and another. I like challenges.”
Barten stresses Embruon has been dependent on teamwork and input from others to find solutions and make the process come together. He works closely with embryo transfer (ET) practitioner and veterinarian Glenn Engelland, owner of Sun Valley Embryo Transfer, in central Kansas. The process they’ve developed utilizes technology created for human embryos from in vitro fertilization. Embruon’s bovine embryo samples go to Neogen’s GeneSeek, and within two weeks, Barten will have the embryo’s genomic data. GeneSeek provides DNA-testing services to cattle and other livestock producers. Eventually, it is hoped all of the genetic information from these embryos will become part of breed-association databases. Initially, Barten says the American Angus Association is the first to commit to an embryo registry.
KNOW THE RISKS
The process of embryo genotyping isn’t perfect, nor is it without risk. Barten says once an embryo has been biopsied, there is about a 10% pregnancy loss. On the positive side, an operation using embryo genotyping could see tremendous savings in the number of recip cows, or surrogates, needed.
Those recip cows, Barten believes, are probably the most important link in the chain.
“A lot of times, we’ve found success in the process largely rests on that recipient animal,” he says. “The person managing a recip herd can put it in a good place or a bad place for this to work. It’s true, we are adding a variable, but it isn’t nearly as big a variable as we see when we look at the condition of different recip animals across different operations.”
The three words Barten uses to describe poor recips: “old, obstinate and obese.” When it comes to cattle temperament, he comes by his knowledge firsthand. Barten grew up on a cow/calf ranch near Abilene.
It’s important to note that not every embryo can be biopsied. There are different quality grades for embryos, and if it’s not a “Grade 1,” Barten says it probably won’t accept a biopsy and freezing. Quality grades for bovine embryos range from a Grade 1, considered excellent, to a Grade 4, dead or degenerating. Grade is assigned based on several criteria, including variation in cell size, shape and color, or texture of the fluid within cell walls.
A biopsy from an embryo will yield an amazing amount of genetic information, which allows for sorting and could create market opportunities. Think of it like being able to look through a sale catalog and select bulls based on genomically enhanced expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs).
“The seedstock guy will be able to do that with their embryo inventory,” Barten predicts. “He can say genomically, this is where he wants to go with his herd and then use those embryos that best fit that program.”
Unused embryos, once genotyped, can be marketed to other producers where the genetic traits are a better fit. An embryo registry is already in the works at the American Angus Association, after the board of directors agreed to implement a process to provide GE-EPDs on embryos, updated and published weekly.
Dan Moser, president of Angus Genetics Inc., expects programming will be in place to provide this information in early 2017. “We will receive results and incorporate those into our genetic evaluation program so our members can get EPDs on embryos,” he says.
“The uptake of genomic testing among Angus breeders is phenomenal,” he adds. Moser says the volume of genetic testing is now more than 30% of registrations, up from less than 5% five years ago.
FIGURE THE COSTS
At this point, it’s estimated an embryo biopsy and genotyping will cost around $150. Barten’s Embruon biopsies the embryo, and GeneSeek does the genotyping.
The estimate doesn’t include those processes that take place at the ranch and are common in any embryo-transfer program. While prices vary widely, minimum costs of $300 per pregnancy have been reported by ET technicians, which likely won’t include semen or synchronization of donor cows. The added cost to genotype the embryo is not expected to dissuade those interested in using this new technology.
Stewart Bauck, general manager at GeneSeek, says it’s phenomenal to see this technology move out of a research setting and into a commercial application.
“This is really being driven by three things,” he believes. “You have someone like Matt Barten and Embruon interested in exploiting the technology for their customer; you have a partnership with GeneSeek, which has the expertise to be able to genotype the embryos; and you have this realization on the part of producers that genomic technologies are real and predictive.
“It’s amazing to realize you can evaluate an animal, even at its youngest state just after conception, and the prediction is an accurate and reliable measure of that animal’s true genetic merit,” Bauck says.
Embruon will be the first point of contact for producers interested in genotyping embryos. Samples will go from there to GeneSeek, where the DNA can be amplified and genotyped, and a data set created.
Bauck says the willingness of breed associations to work with both GeneSeek and Embruon on this process has been key. He adds the adoption of genetic testing among producers is nothing short of phenomenal.
“In the seedstock sector, when we are talking about things like parentage, defect testing or horn/poll, I would argue there isn’t a producer in North America who hasn’t, at one time or another in the last two years, used one or more of those services,” he says. “If you ask me how many take that next step to GE-EPDs and make selections based on that, it’s probably between 25 and 50%, and growing every year.”
Just because a technology is available, does it mean there’s a cost benefit for every producer who uses it? Dorian Garrick says probably not but emphasizes genetic testing has the potential to positively affect all cattle producers, regardless of where they fall in the production chain.
Garrick, professor of animal science at Iowa State University, specializes in genetic improvement and genomic prediction. He says even if commercial cattle operators aren’t using genomics, they have much to gain from the use of these tools at the seedstock level.
“In terms of a value proposition, if a breeder can make faster genetic progress, then all of his buyers benefit from that,” Garrick says. “There is a multiplication effect for every investment a breeder makes, and it benefits all the calves born to all the commercial clients of that breeder.”
At the commercial level, Garrick believes there is less flow-through benefit from genetic testing. Even where a producer sells replacement heifers, he says the goal of genetic testing is most often for that producer to identify and keep the best heifers.
Asked about the economics of genotyping embryos, Garrick says the industry needs more time to see where the cost-benefit line falls.
“This will be so dependent on a producer’s individual operation and goals. If, for example, you have access to a huge number of surrogates, you can put all the embryos you flush in and test those calves when they are born. If, however, surrogates, or recips, are in short supply, and you genotype and implant only those you are interested in, does that offset the cost of additional surrogates? You have to factor in embryo loss and the cost of the testing. It’s going to be an operation-by-operation decision.”
Garrick adds this technology is developing so rapidly that whatever you can say about it today may be out of date six months from now. “For example, what happens when we can see genotype results in real time instead of two weeks?” he asks. “This is a field that is advancing at such a rate, it’s amazing. There’s opportunity here, but producers have to look at their own cost-benefit projections.”
Embruon’s Barten agrees and says as this area of technology moves forward, it’s important to note no one person is doing it all.
“This whole thing is bigger than any one person. It’s certainly a lot bigger than Matt Barten,” Barten says. “I have been blessed by the people I’ve crossed paths with. This would have taken a lot longer without all the right people coming together. You are only as good as the people around you.”
Ultimately, he says, it’s the commitment to the process and a willingness to try something new that is moving cattle genetics ahead at such a rapid rate.
“If you don’t try something because you’re afraid you’ll fail, you’ll never get anywhere, and you won’t raise the bar. There is something to be said for a company or an individual who will try something with a risk and stick with it.”
For thousands of years, farmers have been choosing which traits their crops and livestock carry by using selective breeding. The first genetically modified crops were commercialized in the 1990s. In 2012, a huge scientific breakthrough changed what is possible yet again.
Gene editing, led by the discovery of CRISPR-Cas, promises widespread, accelerated, and targeted discoveries. Areas of the genome linked to specific traits can now be precisely edited. Cut and paste, so to speak. Gene editing could eventually provide a catalog of options for farmers to order exactly what they need. Think of it like customizing a tractor. Don’t need a front-end loader? Remove it. Need dual rear wheels? Add them.
With gene editing, the ability to pick livestock traits will be just as easy. Don’t want to have to dehorn your dairy cattle? There’s an option for that.
In crops, the technology has the potential to improve drought tolerance, eliminate diseases, increase yields, and much more. The possibilities are endless.
NOT YOUR OLD GMOS
Gene editing allows scientists to genetically engineer organisms without inserting foreign (transgenic) DNA. This makes it different from GMOs and means it may not be regulated the same. In fact, the USDA has already ruled that certain uses of CRISPR-Cas technology, such as keeping mushrooms from turning brown, will not be regulated as GMOs. (CRISPR is the guide that controls the precise gene editing. Cas represents the molecular scissors that do the cutting.)
When GMO crops first came into widespread use in agriculture in the 1990s, the initial information from companies using the technology was vague, assuming the public would both understand and accept the technology. Today, those companies realize they need strategic plans to educate both farmers and consumers about the benefits of this technology. While few people question the use of GMOs to produce medicine (insulin-producing bacteria, for example), someone whose life depends on regular insulin injections might reject GMO crops.
People may be open to genetically engineered animals if it means more humane treatment, such as dairy calves that no longer require painful dehorning. Randall Prather, distinguished professor of animal sciences at the University of Missouri and director of the National Swine Resource and Research Center, helped develop pigs resistant to the deadly PRRS virus using CRISPR technology.
“This could have a significant impact on animal welfare,” says Prather. “Nobody likes to see animals suffer.
“There are physiological and emotional costs of these diseases, as well as economic, when they hit family farms,” he explains. “When I give talks about PRRS, I look out in the audience and see a wife pulling close to her husband, leaning in and tearing up. When I see that, I know those people know exactly what I’m talking about because it happened to them.”
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute are taking genes from warthogs resistant to African swine fever and inserting them into domesticated swine in an attempt to eventually eliminate this catastrophic disease from the earth. “That’s food security,” says Prather.
Consumer acceptance is the main obstacle, he says. “It’s a hard thing to sell. People don’t understand it. When computers first came out, a lot of people were afraid of them because they didn’t understand them. Now, everybody runs around with smartphones without giving them a second thought.”
Using genetically engineered animal organs to save lives in humans (xenotransplantation) is the Holy Grail. Prather’s pigs are used to study cystic fibrosis, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, phenylketonuria, and more.
“There are so many things we could do,” says Prather. “You are truly limited by your imagination. If there’s a biological way to do it in nature, we can probably do it.”
One of the early innovators in gene editing is Recombinetics in St. Paul, Minnesota. The company develops swine models that replicate human diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. This fall, Recombinetics was awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a humanized swine model of Alzheimer’s disease.
For agriculture, the company creates desirable animal health and productivity traits to sell to producers for use in breeding programs. The discoveries include the world’s first gene-edited polled cows, heat-tolerant cattle, foot-and-mouth disease resistance, genetic castration, meat quality, and more.
“This is not science fiction,” says Tad Sonstegard, chief scientific officer for Acceligen, the food application arm of Recombinetics. “You can bring any trait into your favorite livestock breed without doing cross breeding. You can make an elite dairy animal polled.”
One benefit for society, he says, is sustainability. Animals with better feed conversions help the planet. “If every animal is 10% more productive, you can feed 10% more people with 10% fewer inputs. If you are concerned about animal welfare and earth welfare, you should be pro gene editing.”
For example, with the technology, you can raise heat-tolerant productive dairy cows in Sub-Saharan Africa, he says. “You change a single gene that allows the cow to thermoregulate better in heat. It is precision breeding.”
You engineer the tool for specific situations, he explains. “You put your scissors at the spot responsible for that trait, knock it out (or put in instructions for a one-base deletion), the repair happens, and now you’ve introduced a Senegal gene into an Angus.”
Farmers are astute and will accept the technology, predicts Sonstegard.
“It’s just another type of breeding. We are selecting and using genetics already in the species. It’s different than GMO, which pulls genes from one species into another. ”
CRISPR is not the only game in town for gene editing. Cibus, for example, is one of many molecular plant biology start-ups trying to release products and secure patents for genome-editing technologies. Cibus already has a crop on the market, a herbicide-tolerant canola.
Cibus’s core proprietary technology is the Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS). The focus is on weed control, disease control, healthier oil profiles, and more.
“Farmers will have the opportunity to obtain these traits quickly and affordably,” says Greg Gocal, chief science officer with Cibus, based in San Diego.
Effectively, RTDS tells a plant cell to rewrite part of its own DNA. The changes are made without directly adding foreign DNA (as with GMOs). The effect is not exactly the same as CRISPR, but it is similar. Many start-ups steer clear of CRISPR because of ensuing patent and licensing disputes with the technology.
“Cibus will bring traits and products to farmers in more crops faster and with less cost than CRISPR,” says Gocal. “Our goal is to have traits in every major crop within the next decade. We already have herbicide-tolerant SU Canola. We will see a release in the 2019-2021 time frame of glyphosate-resistant flax, herbicide-resistant rice, and numerous others.”
When GMO crops first came out, the technology was focused on a small number of traits, says Gocal. Gene editing covers more traits and more crops. Hopefully, he says, the public will accept it.
“The keys for us are to remain transparent and to keep educating people on the benefits of these new gene-editing technologies,” he says. Getting it to Farmers
Designing gene-edited crops and livestock is the first step. Getting the products onto farms is next. The PRRS-resistant pig may be commercialized by PIC within five years if the company receives the necessary regulatory approvals, says Matt Culbertson, director of global product development for PIC, the world’s largest swine breeding stock company (a division of Genus).
“We’ve been an early investor in gene editing as a way to create new and beneficial genetic variation,” says Culbertson. Besides diseases, PIC is funding work on animal well-being, productivity, and sustainability.
“When Prather and his team started working on this a long time ago, it seemed like blue-sky type of science,” says Culbertson. Now the science is here, and the challenge is marketing.
“We need to introduce it to the marketplace domestically and around the globe in a positive manner so there isn’t an impact on exports.”
In the end, says Culbertson, gene editing “can revolutionize the output and efficiency of livestock production. The technology can influence items like animal well-being, sustainability of the industry, feed efficiency, mortality and morbidity, and meat quality. It offers huge opportunity to genetically change the landscape of livestock production.”
One unknown is how the licensing of the CRISPR technology will play out. At some point, any company using this technology will have to pay either Berkeley or MIT, depending on the results of the patent lawsuit (see below). Historically, companies in the GMO arena have been extremely guarded when it comes to their seeds. Once farmers have gene-edited pigs or cows, will they be allowed to breed them in their herds? Stay tuned.
WHAT IS CRISPR?
CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. These repeats were discovered in the genomes of bacteria. In bacteria, CRISPR acts as an adaptive immune system. It uses RNA to guide molecular scissors (Cas) to cut up invading viruses.
Using these same molecular tools, scientists reprogrammed the molecular scissors to cut and edit, or correct specific spots in DNA. CRISPR-Cas tools can now be engineered to cut out the DNA at the exact site of a mutation for a disease in a pig, for example.
The original discovery of CRISPR dates back to the 1980s. In 2012, Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley, with Emmanuelle Charpentier from Umeå University in Sweden demonstrated that CRISPR can be made to specifically edit a genome.
In 2013, Feng Zhang at MIT successfully adapted CRISPR for genome editing in cells. (There is a patent dispute over the discovery.)
Researchers at other universities have now reported similar findings, and the technology has taken off.
More and more often these days you will spot a little bracelet on the arms of friends, neighbors, and strangers. The health trend for monitoring daily footsteps is catching on. Since I now sport one of these, I have the advantage of having actual proof that I am not moving around enough. Ironically, before I ever was gifted with this performance monitor, I was fascinated at more than one dairy trade show to see the growing number of activity monitoring systems which have been developed for use on dairy farms. In fact, activity monitors are just the tip of the dairy tech iceberg.
When you’re in the barn, how much technology should you use?
There is always the need to improve reproduction, reduce labor and lower costs. Is technology this generation’s miracle worker? We are told, it can make managers faster, smarter and more profitable. The promise is that technology brings myriad benefits to dairy progress but where is the line between too little and too much. Growing demand means that an ever-increasing number of companies see the potential in developing and marketing these systems.
The Million Dollar Question
“When does a greater technology presence provide the most benefits.”
The 21st Century Answer
Our dairies aren’t using too much technology.
They’re not using enough!
If we intend to be relevant for future generations of consumers and farmers, we have to prepare ourselves for the world that is going to exist. To put it simply. It’s all about evolution. As you read this, children are growing up with technology. We are moving into a futuristic dairy world. Fewer and fewer producers are having to produce more and more products. This agricultural shift alone means that we need to understand and use technology. Admittedly ongoing economic situations in Europe and fluctuating or declining markets in other countries have some feeling reluctance to invest in the future. But if there is to be a viable future for dairying, investing is exactly what must happen.
How Do These Systems Transform Dairy Processes?
When you work in an industry with as much passion and persistence as the dairy industry has, you don’t have to go far to hear find partnerships of – breeders- science- and business people who are creating new products that are revolutionizing day to day performance.
“No one is talking about what their product might do, they’re talking about what it does.”
Like a well-oiled team, technology developers send out their most charismatic people with videos, brochures, and hands-on displays. If you are exposed to one of these presentations, it’s hard not to feel that you have had a peek into the future. But there is no cause for trepidation. Even though the technology is leading edge, the best presenters keep the explanations (and implementation) grass roots simple. They know that information is key to being successful and profitable in the modern dairy business. They say, “The better you align your goals with your profitability, the clearer your technology needs will become. Whether it’s labor, nutrition, production or genetics, technology can assist the potential in each area.”
Do Monitors Eliminate Interaction with The Cows?
The goal is not to eliminate the need for interaction with the dairy herd. It is to make it easier to focus effectively on priorities.
“Now your cows can talk to you!”
And it isn’t just the dairy manager that gains an advantage. There are applications for consultants and nutritionists too. Modern technology is putting tech in the hands of every person who is on the dairy team.
“Like all tools, the technology works best when it is properly implemented.”
Tech is ready to change the way we think about making thousands of daily management decisions. The great thing with most of the new products is that the learning curve for anyone interested is almost instant and is well supported by the developers. We have all wanted to take advantage of new technology and had to work through the slow process of learning, re-learning and fixing the accompanying software. Dairy technology companies that will have an impact and thrive in today’s market know that solving learning hurdles is key to everyone’s success.
Know What to Ask Before Making the Decision to Purchase a Technology Monitoring System
Is training or support is provided with the system?
What warranty period is there on the system and its components?
How large an area is covered? Can the system read activity tags in all parts of the barn or pasture?
How large of an area will the tag reader or antenna cover?
How long will it take to pay back the cost of the system?
What is the warranty period on the system and/or its components?
Is there another farm in the area using the system that I could visit?
Is the activity system compatible with my current herd management software?
What other technology will I need (i.e. Internet connection) for this system to work?
When you talk to users of the technology, be sure to ask them what problems they had and how they overcame them.
You are now prepared for the fun of taking a day (or more) away from the farm to bring yourself up-to-date on the latest innovations in livestock production. Here are some that catch the interest of The Bullvine.
vetMEDRIA SENSOR – Cow Monitoring System is Dedicated to Reliable Real-Time Data
The Medria system provides information on heat detection, rumination, feeding behavior, health monitoring and calving time monitoring. It uses cellular communication instead of the internet, and it is an integrated system- HeatPhone, FeedPhone, VetPhone, SanPhone. They system sends text messages about group changes in water or feed consumption and rumination. It reports cows at risk due to changes in behavior, as well as cows in heat, etc. When I first learned about this system in 2015, there was tremendous interest around the World Dairy Expo booth. At that time Medria Technologies founders Jean-Pierre Lemonnier and Emmaneul Mounier (2004 in Brittanny France) pointed out, “Medria Technologies has a full line totally oriented to farm management.” and they reported that over 4000 farmers in more than 10 European countries were already using Medria’s monitoring solutions. Those first eleven years were providing positive results, proving “how need this device is and how successful it can be in the monitoring and early detection of reproduction and animal health problems.”
Now WIC has Been Added to the GEA MixFeeder
In July of 2016, GEA introduced the Wireless Integrated Control (WIC) system which is an intelligent software for its proven MixFeeder. The new system ensures that every performance group receives the optimal mix ration of raw feed, concentrated feed and minerals in the right volumes at the most appropriate intervals. The WIC delivers the feed precisely and reliably around the clock. This benefits milk producers and herd managers as it ensures that their cows are always performing at their full potential, thereby improving milk volumes and quality and reducing workload and costs.
The WiIC software enables staff to access the system from the PC, touch panel or their smartphone, wherever they happen to be, via the local network or the internet. This gives producers and herd managers greater freedom, while still enabling them to have full control over the entire feeding process. The system can also send alerts via SMS if required. These messages can then be acknowledged with a simple reply text. Staff can also manage individual functions and get basic information on the touchscreen on the feeder itself.
There are numerous great products on the market and many more that will be introduced and demonstrated at upcoming shows. EuroTier is held every two years in Hanover, Germany and from November 15 to 18 this year, there will be exhibitors highlighting products to support breeding, feeding, husbandry, management, logistics and animal health. Once again, the future beckons!
Introducing the Robot Named, “ROVER!”
Rover is a new self-propelled robot whose debut appearance will be at EuroTier. Rover will show how it can not only automatically mix and feed and dispense it to the cows but also push up that feed as it passes. This new robotic feeding system was developed by Rovibec in Quebec, Canada and will be distributed in parts of Europe by Schauer Agrotronic in Austria.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Modern technology developers are just like every one of us who has a piece of dairy in their DNA. They are eagerly taking a bold and imaginative place in the product line between the stable and the table. Whether you walk the aisles of World Dairy Expo in Madison or the Euro-Tier Show in Hanover Germany, you will be inspired by visionary companies with the courage to lead. Technology is an area of dairying that is moving at the speed of change and helping dairy operators to take a progressive, sustainable and profitable step into the future. Where are you? Too much? Or Not enough?
It’s the modern era. Can we handle dairy details digitally or do we have to wade through good and bad field representatives of several organizations and service providers in order to get things done efficiently. A dairy farmer’s time is valuable. There isn’t time to do a lot of spreadsheet comparisons even though it might be needed.
As a result, the 21st century dairy industry is beginning to look more like an episode from STAR TREK than I ever imagined it would. Robotic milking, banks of computer screens in our offices, hand-held devices and cell phones giving us “always there” “24-7 access” for problem solving and production delivery. It’s a wonderful world. Well…almost.
We Need Human Engagement
Like the dairy operations we depend on, we are complex in our needs. Keeping everything precisely computerized (cloud based) is great but there are times when we need old-fashioned human support networks. It’s a tricky balancing act to be sure. Here’s one example.
PROs and CONs
It used to be that there were people parading in and out the barn lane with the latest genetics, farm equipment or nutrition plan to promote to the farmer. With the growth of larger and larger dairy herds, there is less and less time to sort through these potential problem solving consultants. Online research and sorting has replaced those live sales pitches and even led to discouragement of cold-calling by dairy supply businesses. Having said that, nothing is perfect. The new focus returning to human input comes from the problem solving and profit side of the equation. This is driven by the question “How can you solve the problem I am facing RIGHT NOW?”
Service companies that are excelling at working with progressive modern dairy businesses are the ones that keep improving their online, digital products while still maintaining their focus on what matters most to their dairy customers. It’s great to know that your genetics supplier, or robotic milking system or computerized farm management system is an industry leader (aka financially successful) but at the end of the day you want them to be there when you need a problem solved or are seeking an answer to your business challenge. It’s great to own an industry leading product, system or genetics but real success very much depends on the effective combination of product and customized customer service.
“Who Ya Gonna Call” or “On the Fly”
Even at the Bullvine – or should I say especially at the Bullvine – we are aware of the challenges of long distance commutes, air travel and the difficulties of scheduling face to face time. There are digital ways (iPhones, Skype etc.) that at least bring human voices to the scene but sometimes nothing works but actually being there. Suppliers, health providers and consultants face the very real challenge of trying to have the right person in the right place at the right time, while remaining financially viable. The challenge we face, is providing both convenience and the human touch.
“Wait until I tell you what I want”
There was a time, when we enjoyed the research phase of buying a new operating system, buying replacement cattle or upgrading farm equipment. Time today is more precious. Today a large part of the research and decision-making process can be carried out online via and through social outreach. This basically means that face-to-face touch points are not necessary until the dairy manager is ready to make the final purchase or request specific assistance.
Good People Behind the Scenes
When I’m ready to choose between competing brands, it often comes down to a determination of what grade of support will they give once I have made the purchase. Intelligent, accessible assistance is what we are all looking for. Don’t make me wade through the FAQs on your website. When I’m stuck I want being able to access through real conversation, offers a huge uptick in terms of customer satisfaction. In an ideal world having on site support would be just that…ideal. But having an established relationship with a person that is prepared to personalize answers to my needs is also pretty close to perfect. Don’t wait until the situation has escalated and it becomes complex and emotional. Companies that achieve the ‘human touch’ will always be the ones that get repeat business.
Know Yourself Best! Know Your Consultants Better!
We all recognize that the dairy industry is changing all the time. We may not be prepared to adopt all the changes as soon as they happen. We need to know our own comfort level with new ideas and be able to express to our vets, nutritionists and genetics suppliers, where that comfort level is. Whether you are progressive or conservative, you want to work with a team that can meet you where you’re at. A key area to resolve is how much of your data you want others to have access to. Full disclosure. Better solutions.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
The day is closer than we think, when total interactive access between all dairy shareholders will be done by voice, video and text. Then, if we could just master teleporting, our dairy world.
A dairy equipment specialist says farms are continuing a transition to robotics despite the current milk price environment.
Mark Futcher with DeLaval tells Brownfield researchers have estimated by 2025 a majority of cows will be milked automatically. “It was preconceived, wrongly it seems, that robots would only have a fit for smaller farms, whatever that might be defined as, fast forward to today where we’re talking to some of the larger and very largest dairy producers in North America about robots.” He says the shift toward robotic milking parlors is happening globally and with all sized dairy farms as a way to improve labor costs, productivity and cow comfort.
And, even if dairy farmers aren’t planning to make upgrades in the near future, Futcher says it’s important to create a master plan. “It’s only reasonable and good business practices that you would continue to look at how you might, with incremental steps, continue to progress and perhaps robotics are a part of that and perhaps not.”
During World Dairy Expo, TDI Farms LLC of Westphalia, Michigan announced plans to build the largest DeLaval robotic dairy in North America with 24 robots and this past June the company finalized an agreement to equip the world’s largest robotic dairy in Chile which will milk 4,500 cows with 64 robots.
At the farm level, producers have long capitalized on making genetic progress through sire selection. The importance of using the best sires possible stems from the fact that over 90% of the genetic progress realized in most dairy herds results from sire selection. In herds that have the highest rates of genetic gain, importance is also placed on the selection of cows as dams of the next generation of replacement heifers.
Traditionally, opportunities for female selection were limited as all heifer calves were needed to be raised as replacements. Only through the use of embryo transfer could a breeder generate more heifers from the genetically superior dams in the herd, which could therefore also generate a surplus of heifers and an opportunity for heifer sales.
Today, due to improvements in reproduction and calf rearing, combined with the advent of sexed semen, many producers are able to create a situation of excess heifer replacements. Given the current acceptance of genomic evaluations, as indicated by the 70% market share occupied by genomic young bulls, progressive producers have adopted the strategy of heifer genotyping. This article examines the benefits of using sexed semen and genomic testing as complimentary technologies to maximize the potential profitability of the herd through genetics.
Sexed semen has now been available in Canada for about 10 years. Since its beginnings, sexed semen usage has seen limited uptake due to lower conception rates, price markup and the lack of availability for the most elite sires. While the cost for sexed semen still remains around $15-20 greater per unit than conventional semen, advancements in this technology over time have improved the resulting conception rates. In addition, essentially all AI companies now offer sexed semen on a wide variety of their bulls including genomic young bulls and progeny proven sires. Although conception rates have improved compared to the early technologies for semen sorting, the best practice is still to utilize sexed semen for first and second inseminations with a preferred use on heifers compared to lactating cows.
The obvious key benefit to sexed semen is the shift in the expected sex ratio of calves from roughly 50:50 to over 90% heifers. An associated benefit is the reduced incidence of calving difficulties since heifer calves are born easier than males, which is particularly beneficial when considering matings for virgin heifers. The use of sexed semen provides greater opportunities to create heifer replacements from within your herd, thereby reducing the risk of introducing infectious diseases from purchased animals. From a genetic perspective, the use of sexed semen to breed the genetically superior females in your herd increases the likelihood that you will have a daughter available as a replacement heifer instead of taking the chance with a 50% probability of having a heifer with conventional semen.
Heifer Genomic Testing
A newborn heifer calf can have a genomic evaluation before reaching one month of age if a sample is sent into Holstein Canada shortly after birth. In general, testing with a low density SNP panel will suffice, which has a cost of $45 per heifer. Genomic results can be freely accessed on the web sites of CDN or Holstein Canada and CDN offers a data management service that allows easy access to genetic and genomic evaluation results for all your animals.
The primary benefit of genomic testing your heifers is the increased accuracy of the resulting genetic evaluation. Without genomics, heifers receive a Parent Average that generally has a Reliability for LPI and Pro$ in the range of 35% to 40%. Once genotyped, this Reliability level roughly doubles to approximately 70%. The critical fact, however, is that genomic testing of females yields this 70% Reliability level regardless of the age of the animal. This means that the accuracy of a genetic evaluation for heifers that are one month old is almost the same as for cows with one or more lactations. Having more accurate genetic information for your heifers allows for better ranking among all females in the herd and mating decisions. Genotyping heifers has the added value of ensuring the correct parentage and is the easiest way to identify those carrying undesirable genes (i.e.: haplotypes) that negatively affect rates of embryonic death and calf mortality in the herd. Ultimately, all of these benefits of heifer genotyping translate into more genetic progress to achieve the herd objectives.
Combining the Technologies for a More Valuable Breeding Program
Although the use of sexed semen and genomic testing are valuable technologies on their own, the greatest benefits are achieved when they are used in tandem, especially over a few years to realize maximum genetic benefit. Genomic testing significantly improves your ability to identify the breeding age heifers and cows that are genetically superior for your preferred index, LPI or Pro$, and provides a more accurate genetic profile for identifying the best mating sire. If desired, most AI mating programs can assist you with ranking females by your customized index as well as manage genetic recessives and inbreeding levels in resulting progeny.
Regardless of the ranking index, targeting the highest heifers, and perhaps even some cows, for use of sexed semen will produce more daughters from that portion of the herd. Depending on the proportion of all conceptions that result from sexed semen, versus conventional semen, you will end up with a surplus of heifers born relative to what is normally required as herd replacements. For example, if 25% of the pregnancies in the herd over a given time period resulted from sexed semen, then 60% of all calves are expected to be females, instead of the usual expectation of 50%.
The subsequent genomic testing of heifer calves then helps to identify those that should be kept and the bottom portion (i.e.: the extra 10%) can be sold at a young age to reduce the costs associated with rearing them all to first calving. The use of sexed semen alongside genomic testing capitalizes on all benefits of each technology to help achieve faster rates of genetic progress towards your herd objectives.
Brian Van Doormaal, General Manager, CDN
Lynsay Beavers, Industry Liaison Coordinator, CDN
A study conducted by Purdue University researcher Bruce Applegate, associate professor in the Department of Food Science, and others developed a process that extends the shelf life of milk.
A rapid heating and cooling of milk significantly reduces the amount of harmful bacteria present, extending by several weeks the shelf life of one of the most common refrigerator staples in the world, according to a Purdue University study.
Bruce Applegate, Purdue associate professor in the Department of Food Science, and collaborators from Purdue and the University of Tennessee published their findings in the journal SpringerPlus, where they show that increasing the temperature of milk by 10 degrees for less than a second eliminates more than 99 percent of the bacteria left behind after pasteurization.
“It’s an add-on to pasteurization, but it can add shelf life of up to five, six or seven weeks to cold milk,” Applegate said.
Pasteurization, which removes significant amounts of harmful pathogens that can cause illness and eventually spoil dairy products, is considered a high-temperature, short-time method. Developed by Louis Pasteur in the 19th century, the treatment gives milk a shelf life of about 2-3 weeks.
The low-temperature, short-time (LTST) method in the Purdue study sprayed tiny droplets of pasteurized milk, which was inoculated with Lactobacillus and Pseudomonas bacteria, through a heated, pressurized chamber, rapidly raising and lowering their temperatures about 10 degrees Celsius but still below the 70-degree Celsius threshold needed for pasteurization. The treatment lowered bacterial levels below detection limits, and extended shelf life to up to 63 days.
“With the treatment, you’re taking out almost everything,” Applegate said. “Whatever does survive is at such a low level that it takes much longer for it to multiply to a point at which it damages the quality of the milk.”
The LTST chamber technology was developed by Millisecond Technologies, a New-York-based company.
Sensory tests compared pasteurized milk with milk that had been pasteurized and run through MST’s process. Panelists did not detect differences in color, aroma, taste or aftertaste between the products.
Phillip Myer, an assistant professor of animal science at the University of Tennessee and a co-author of the paper, said the process uses the heat already necessary for pasteurization to rapidly heat milk droplets.
“The process significantly reduces the amount of bacteria present, and it doesn’t add any extra energy to the system,” Myer said.
Myer said the promise of the technology is that it could reduce waste and allow milk to reach distant locations where transport times using only pasteurization would mean that milk would have a short shelf life upon arrival.
Applegate said the process could be tested without pasteurization to determine if it could stand alone as a treatment for eliminating harmful bacteria from milk.
The study was funded by the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Center for Food Safety Engineering at Purdue University and Millisecond Technologies
Do cows get seasick? It’s not a question farmers often ask, except in the Dutch city of Rotterdam where a team of developers plans to build a floating dairy.
“They won’t here,” says Minke van Wingerden of Beladon, a company involved with water-based projects from a luxury hotel to this floating farm proposed for Rotterdam harbour. “In Friesland, where I come from, sometimes they bring cows from one place to another on a small barge,” van Wingerden recalls. “[The floating farm] will be very stable. When you are on a cruise ship, you aren’t seasick.”
Beladon’s €2.5m project (£2m) envisages 40 cows on a 1,200 square metre floating platform, producing 1,000 litres of milk a day to be pasteurised and processed into yogurt in a dairy on the floor below.
The building is planned in concrete, relatively light and buoyant, with galvanised steel frames and a special membrane floor that lets bovine urine soak through. A machine will mop up dry cow dung as another robot tops up food stations. The cows will wander in and out of stalls and the milking section, and can also potter over a ramp to real-life pasture on the land.
On the ground floor, as well as the processing of milk, water from the cows’ urine will be purified and used to grow red clover, alfalfa and grass under artificial light for fodder. Cow’s manure will either be used or dispatched to a nearby farm.
The project developers, who hope to begin building this autumn, say this kind of “closed-loop system” will be a paradigm for feeding cities in an ever more populous and urbanised world.
“The world’s population is rising, and most cities in deltas are sinking because of more and more concrete,” says van Wingerden. “My husband Peter [chief executive of Beladon] visited New York, there was Hurricane Sandy and he saw the shelves were empty; there was only food for two days. He thought we had to do things in another way, and the idea came: why not build a floating farm?”
For an entrepreneur involved in building a floating cruise terminal, nightclub and five star hotel, this wasn’t such a strange idea. He found fellow thinkers in the Dutch city farm Uit Je Eigen Stad (from your own town), which aims to reconnect city dwellers with their food, dairy innovation group Courage, and the Rotterdam harbour’s SOFIE fund. These groups are putting up the cash and trying to hammer out planning permission with Rotterdam council.
Johan Bosman, cofounder of the Uit Je Eigen Stad farm, restaurant and market in Rotterdam, said: “The world will grow, and more and more people will live in delta cities. Expanding cities need unbuilt areas and green space for housing purposes, so there’s less space for traditional food production. The logical consequence is that we will look to the water to produce some of the fresh food.
“In the Netherlands, fresh food is available and we don’t have very large cities, but we have a lot of agricultural and maritime expertise. We are combining these sectors to try to make an innovative circular farm to produce fresh dairy products, and by doing so make the city more resilient.”
He admits it’s a challenge: “Cows are pretty hard. They are large animals, and there are a lot of rules. We are also working on a floating farm for egg-laying chickens and a floating greenhouse.”
There are enthusiastic noises from Havenbedrijf Rotterdam, the harbour organisation, which has various innovative schemes including the Merwe-Vierhavens project where the floating farm is planned. There are also ideas for floating forests and solar panels.
The Dutch government also invited the floating farm developers to an informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers in May, part of its EU presidency conference series. It’s not all plain sailing, of course. “The smell is a hiccup now,” admits van Wingerden. A pig farm proposed for the centre of The Hague in 2009 floundered in the face of public opposition, but Rotterdam municipal council appears more positive.
Adriaan Visser, deputy mayor at Rotterdam municipal council, said the farm: “Fits in with our drive for innovative activity in the area. It is also an example of the circular economy, a concept that can certainly be applied in other cities, for example Bangladesh, where building in the delta could be a solution to flooding. At the moment, the environmental agency is looking at a number of aspects, including odour.”
Architect Klaas van der Molen, part of the design team, said artificial trees hung with real ivy will provide shade for the cows, solar panels on the roof will power some processes, and he believes it will make for happy bovine living.
“With 40 cows at 800kg each on a moving body, it has to be more stable and symmetrical,” he explains. “They could all stand on one side. The cow specialist thinks they will spend most time on the floating farm [not in the field], as it’s a cosy area where they have their food, their sheds are there and it has a softened floor.”
Some experts are less convinced. Jan Willem van der Schans, of the Dutch Agricultural Economics Research Institute, pointed out that there was an even better example of circular farming 100 years ago when the Schiedam jenever (gin) industry produced waste that was nutritious for mid-Delfland cows, whose manure went to the sandy soils of Westland to nurture world-famous Dutch horticulture.
He said: “The real challenge for circular farming is in connecting an area … where there is serious dairy farming, to the city, without the city swallowing up this green area. Innovation is to be welcomed, but why not do this at real farms that can serve as example to all dairy farmers in the Netherlands and worldwide?”
Carel De Vries, of dairy innovation body Courage, another funder, admitted: “A third of people are really enthusiastic, a third have big eyes, and the other third think we are crazy. That’s how it goes with innovations.”
Brant County farmers Pam and Terry Charlton demonstrate the computerized, robotic features of their new dairy barn at Elm Bend Holsteins on McBay Road. MICHAEL-ALLAN MARION/The Expositor
The venerable Elm Bend Holsteins on McBay Road has all the charm of a five-generation dairy farm with its century home, big barn and silos.
But the present operators, Pam and Terry Charlton, want to show a gleaming, modern barn standing on a neighbouring farm they bought next door.
“We’ve skipped a century here,” Terry Charlton, 48, says as he and Pam, 42, usher the way into their office with the latest desk and computer and a big bay window showing a complete view of the interior of the barn where cows appear to roam at will.
By the view, the Charltons have just become the latest dairy farmers to go “robotic.”
The barn is bright and airy with curtains helping maintain temperature and climate control. Under the Charlton perusal the cows move from “flexible stalls” along guiding rails to common areas, a holding area, and step into a robot milker and feeding spot.
“The old barn in the home farm next door was built in 1896. It went through a lot of renovations and redesigns and got us through four generations,” Terry said.
Terry and his wife had taken over the direct running of the farm from his parents Ruth Ann and the late Ron Charlton a few years ago.
“We were at the point there were no economically feasible options left if we wanted to expand,” said Pam.
The family had bought the neighbouring farm in 2004. When Pam and Terry reached the conclusion that the grand old barn could yield no more worth for expansion, they set to work building a new barn with state-of-the-art technology. They studied minimum distance separations, and did nutrient management studies to ensure the viability of a new barn on 50 acres.
Excavation of land and construction of the new barn, complete with the computer monitored feeding, milking, breeding and record-keeping, cost the Charltons more than $1 million. Pam and Terry and their four daughters Raechel, 14, Reegan, 11, Cailyn, 9, and Kelsey, 6, all helped move in the cows and took over the computerized controls on Jan. 18.
All the kids stayed home from school that week to help. Raechel and Reegan were able to learn the robot software quickly and even teach their dad a few things about how to make it work.
The barn is equipped with cameras that allow Pam and Terry to monitor the operation from the house. As long as there’s Wi-Fi, Terry can keep track on his cell phone from anywhere in the world.
The system also brings the Charltons up to the latest traceability standards and the regulations of the Canadian Quality Milk Program, and record keeping. It also gets them ready for the ProAction Initiative a program led by the Dairy Farmers of Canada to get dairy producers to use responsible stewardship principles in the breeding, keeping and milking of their cows.
It dictates stall size requirements, space and animal numbers for a sustainable, responsible operation.
“If the kids want to take over and expand, there are more options on this property,” said Pam. They are all in 4-H clubs and take an active hand in helping.
With 43 milking cows, 17 dry ones, eight calves and up to 20 heifers, the Charltons’ 88-head herd, with another 30 back at the home farm, is the most recent robotic operation, but still in the early part of a growing trend in dairy farming in Ontario. There are 52 registered dairy operations in the Brant, but fewer than a dozen with robot systems.
“It’s the coming thing,” said Pam.
“As with anything new, there are kinks and bugs to work out, but it’s going well.”
Terry grinned at that comment.
“It’s an adaptation as much for us as it is for the cows,” he said as they watched another cow walk into the robot milker and begin to eat while being milked.
“Actually, I think the cows probably take it easier than we do.”
Management Strategies and Innovations to be the Focus of VMS PRO
DeLaval recently announced the agenda for the VMS PRO (Professional Robotic Operators) series. Scheduled to take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, NV February 29 – March 2, 2016, the event includes more than 100 registered users, from ten nationalities and four continents. VMS PRO is a popular event for current and future robotic dairy operators and will feature world-renowned industry experts that will share their latest research in the areas of robotic milking, feeding concepts and technological innovations. Topics include exploring precision dairy tools, the role of robotic housing systems on animal health, successful group calf feeding and optimizing cow traffic. The complete agenda may be found here.
On the agenda is “PRO Dairy Talks” which will feature seven of the top Voluntary Milking System (VMS) producers from around the world. Defined as producers that have reached and/or exceeded an average of 3,000 kg (6,600 lbs) of milk harvested per robot per day, they will share their management strategies and best practices of integrated robotics through an interactive user panel. The producers hail from five countries, with operations ranging from 1 to 16 VMS robots and from sophisticated freestall facilities to highly efficient robotic grazing dairies.
“We are excited to host the industry’s premier robotics event because helping producers succeed is the passion that drives us,” states Francisco Rodriguez, Marketing Manager for Automatic Milking and Feeding at DeLaval North America, “With the first-class line up of presentations and the “PRO Dairy Talks” panel, we are confident producers will discover useful tools they can implement on their farms to help be successful. The real value of this event is the networking that occurs between current and future VMS users, robotic dealerships and industry partners, in an informal setting, to discover new ideas and solve potential challenges.”
The presentations that are scheduled for VMS PRO include:
Dr. Ken Nordlund, Barn Design-Interaction of Robotic – Housing Systems and Health: Clinical professor Emeritus, School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and board-certified dairy specialist in the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Dr. Nordlund is one of the most influential dairy practitioners in the world with important contributions in topics such as cow comfort, cattle housing, barn design and transition cow management.
Dr. Trevor DeVries, Improving Feed Access and Consumption on Robotic Dairies: Canada Research Chair in Dairy Cattle Behavior and Welfare and an Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph, Dr. DeVries has been focusing his research on dairy cow feeding behavior, ruminant nutrition and welfare. His influence in the robotics world is amazing, with riveting articles in the Journal of Dairy Science about robotic milking and the effects of robotic feeding on cow productivity and performance.
Dr. Nico Vreeburg, Calf to CowSignals Workshop: Senior consultant and veterinarian at Vet Vice in Holland with expertise in barn and dairy design, dairy management, and the CowSignals® concept. Within Vet Vice, Dr. Vreeburg participated in the development of the CowSignals® concept and co-founded Vet Vice Barn Design, currently works full time as a trainer and consultant on barn design, dairy farm management and cow management. Vet Vice is active in more than 30 countries.
Dr. Jeff Bewley, Precision Dairy Tools – Explore the Potential: Received a B.S. in Animal Sciences from the University of Kentucky, a M.S. in Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his PhD at Purdue University where he focused on the application and economics of precision dairy farming technologies. Dr. Bewley’s current teaching program at the University of Kentucky focuses on precision dairy technology, mastitis prevention, cow comfort, lameness prevention, and decision economics.
Dr. Bob James, Prepping Calves for Successful Group Feeding: Dairy extension project leader in the Dept. of Dairy Science of Virginia Tech., Dr. James’s research has focused on management of growing calves and heifers. Most recently, his research has focused on sanitation and management of automated calf feeding systems. He has made presentations and consulted with calf ranches, dairies and feed companies in more than 20 U.S. states, Canada, South America, Asia and Europe.
Dr. Nancy Charlton, Take Your VMS & Herd Navigator to the Next Level by Monitoring KPI’s: Dairy Management Advisor – Robotic Solutions, DeLaval North America. Dr. Charlton graduated from the University of Guelph, Ontario Veterinary College. Animals, science, travel and agriculture make up a large part of what she is passionate about. Dr. Charlton has consulted with dairy operations in Canada, China, USA, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Middle East, in an effort to help the dairy cow and calf.
Dr. Lizzy French, Feeding the VMS Dairy – North American Experiences: Dairy Management Advisor – Robotic Solutions, DeLaval North America. Dr. French is originally from Illinois, where she completed her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Animals Sciences in 2005. Since then her area of research and expertise has been ruminant nutrition with a primary focus on dairy cows and robotic technologies. Her passion for nutrition and research led her to obtain her MSc and PhD degrees from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Dr. Francisco Rodriguez, Optimizing Cow Traffic on Robotic Dairies: Dairy entrepreneur, milk producer and Holstein breeder, he holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and is a robotic milking and precision dairy consultant. Dr. Rodriguez has been involved in the design and management of robotic projects in North America, Latin America, Europe and Oceania and is the author of multiple robotic milking and feeding articles in global trade publications and blogs. Currently, he is the Marketing Manager – Automatic Milking and Feeding, DeLaval North America.
The registration deadline for VMS PRO is February 19th. For more information, and to register, click here.
Two calves whose genes have been edited so they won’t grow horns are being raised and will later be bred at UC Davis, reported Edward Ortiz in the Sacramento Bee.
Dairy cows have been bred for optimal dairy production, but the gene mix brought along horns. Angus beef were bred for optimal beef production, and don’t have horns. Since the dairy industry doesn’t want animals with horns because they can hurt each other or farmworkers, it is common practice to remove them shortly after birth.
Removing the horns involves an uncomfortable procedure called debudding, in which, after being treated with a local anesthetic, the cells on the animal’s head that would grow into horns are killed with an electrical appliance.
“Consumers are concerned about how we care for dairy animals. They expect us to do a good job and are concerned about pain and discomfort,” said UC Davis veterinarian Terry Lehenbauer in a video about the advancement (See the video below).
Using precision genetic “editing,” scientists were able to delete the dairy cow gene that produced horns and replace it with the angus gene that resulted in hornlessness.
At UC Davis, the two calves’ growth and development will be tracked. Eventually they will father cows with horned mothers to see if the hornless trait is passed on to the offspring. The odds of them doing so, Van Eenennaam said, are 100 percent, if “Mendelian genetics hold true.” Mendelian genetics are laws of gene inheritance discovered by 19th century monk Johann Mendel.
Van Eenennaam said it’s not clear whether other, unexpected effects of the gene editing will occur. However, if successful, gene editing will allow the dairy industry to bypass decades of breeding for hornless cows.
Geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam is studying the potential for gene editing in cattle at the University of California,Davis
The University of California, Davis Department of Animal Science recently acquired two Holstein bull calves that are genetically polled as a result of gene-editing techniqes. Researchers at the university plan to raise the calves to maturity and mate them to multiple Holstein cows to measure the effects of the gene-edited trait on their progeny.
Gene editing is a relatively new application of molecular biology with potential for rapidly introducing a new or modified genetic trait in animals. News reports recently described how researchers at the University of Missouri have used gene editing to produce a line of pigs that are resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS).
The gene-edited calves, named Spotigy and Buri, were bred by Recombinetics, a genetic technology company in Minnesota
Most lines of Holsteins need to be mechanically dehorned to prevent injuries to diary workers and other cows, a process that increases labor costs and creates concerns over animal health and welfare. Breeders have produced some lines of genetically polled Holsteins using conventional breeding methods, but horned lines make up the vast majority of cattle in U.S. dairies.
UC-Davis geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD, is managing the project. Quoted in an article in the Sacramento Bee, she compares gene editing to changing the spelling of a word in a word-processing document, while genetic engineering would compare with pasting in a new word copied from a different document.
In genetic engineering, scientists can introduce genetic material from a different species into a cell’s DNA to produce a new genetic trait. In gene editing, scientists can rearrange a precise section of DNA, or remove it and replace it with a section of DNA from the same species, but coded for a different expression of the genes, such as polled versus horned. This technology potentially can allow breeders to change or alter a single trait, while leaving the rest of the organism’s genome unchanged.
In producing Spotigy and Buri, scientists removed a section of DNA coded for horn growth and replaced it with another coded for the polled trait.
Van Eenennaam believes gene editing has potential to significantly improve animal health and productivity, resulting in reduced resource use and improved sustainability in food production.
Brian T. Horowitz is an editor for Dell’s technology news website, Power More. He has been a technology journalist since 1996 and has written for numerous publications, including Computer Shopper, Fast Company, NYSE magazine, and ScientificAmerican.com.
We know that big data has been used in retail, healthcare and finance, but you might be surprised to find out that it also helps farmers with dairy production. This practice, called precision dairy farming, involves the use of technology such as RFID tags and sensors to track the health of cows, which are essential to the economy in areas such as India.
Vishvas Chitale, director of Chitale Dairy in Bhilawadi, India, explained the role the grass-grazing animals play for farmers. “It’s very important for them as revenue because for farming companies in India we call cows ATMs.”
“If you feed the animal, you get milk the next day,” Chitale said. “By a week’s time you get money, and that’s very important for the rural community in India. That’s why we’ve been able to sustain for the last 75 years as an organization.”
The company produces about 500,000 liters of milk per day, along with cheese, cottage cheese, cream, butter, yogurt and skimmed milk powder.
Reducing The Number Of Cows
Chitale sells about 60 million liters of milk per year from its dairy farm and smaller farms in Bhilawadi. From 2014-2015, India has exported more than 66,000 metric tons of dairy products, according to the Indian government’s Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority.
For Chitale Dairy, the goal is to increase the amount of milk production while reducing the number of cows, which in great numbers contribute to the amount of methane in the environment, Chitale said. “By reducing the number of cows, we can really help the environment,” he said. “We want to have less cows but more productivity.”
How The Cloud And Big Data Boost Milk Yield
Chitale Dairy deploys a “cows-to-cloud” strategy to increase the milk yield. Farmers access the data in a cloud portal and use the data to help with animal trading.
“It’s like creating an ecosystem whereby all the stakeholders get the benefit of the compute,” Chitale said. “If [farmers] want to trade their animal and we publish that information about her health, it provides value to them.”
At a weekly bazaar, the Chitale Dairy farmers receive money in exchange for the cow milk they’ve produced for the week. In addition, many farmers in India are trading cows online.
To monitor the cows, Chitale Dairy places Allflex RFID tags in cows’ ears to receive information on whether the animals are in heat or need to be vaccinated or dewormed. This information is transmitted via the cloud to farmers’ mobile devices.
Farmers call the Chitale Dairy call center, which sends the data to a mobile app, with the RFID number matching up with a particular cow. The farm then sends a to-do list to farmers in their local language each morning on what each cow needs based on the data collected from the RFID signals. (Companies such as Allflex, GEA and Y-Tex offer these RFID tags.)
Chitale Dairy maintains a database of 10,000 animals, along with a complete progeny and medical history.
“The secret of the whole system is this is cow 1626, and whatever data I collect relates to her,” stated Michael Hutjens, professor emeritus in animal sciences at the University of Illinois. “The beauty of the tag is the ability to track the animal.”
Chitale Dairy uses the data to track blood profiles and the nutrition requirements of cows, such as whether the animals are getting the proper iron or calcium. From the data received by RFID tags, Chitale Dairy performs mineral mapping and blood profiling.
Monitoring the data allows Chitale Dairy to increase milk production by more than 5 liters per animal, Chitale said.
The sensors also keep track of how much a cow eats per day.
“If one day cows only spend one day eating, then these alerts tell us something is going on with this cow and then we can look at her and try to find the best course of action,” said Jeffrey Bewley, associate extension professor at the University of Kentucky.
“The whole idea is to have a complete life cycle of the animal,” Chitale said. For example, the system sends messages on whether a cow is having a calf. The dairy farm also uses genetic mating software to track whether offspring are producing with “greater genetic gain” than their mothers.
By monitoring the health of cows using RFID tags and sensors, farmers can detect whether the animals suffer from conditions such as mastitis, a potentially fatal infection of the udder tissue, or lameness, which is difficulty in moving around.
Discovering mastitis is a top parameter for farmers to adopt precision dairy technology such as RFID, according to Bewley and fellow University of Kentucky researcher Matt Borcher. Other factors include standing heat and daily milk yield.
“Sensors also can track if a cow is running a fever or hasn’t eaten in 48 hours,” Hutjens said.
The Future Of Big Data In Farming
Despite the advantages that big data brings to agriculture and milk production, farmers may not have the time to absorb all this data.
“It’s assuming that the farmer has time to look at the data and that the farmer is willing to stare at a screen for hours on end,” said Patrick Zelaya, founder of HeavyConnect, a Salinas, California, startup that develops software to make agriculture field data actionable. “It’s more than just creating and displaying valuable data but integrating that data into the operation without it turning into a video game for the farmer.”
To solve the problem, farmers will need to have someone dedicated to spending at least an hour a day analyzing big data. “It requires good management and commitment to use the system,” Hutjens explained. “Analysis of the data could lead to checking the health of a cow, including taking the temperature and giving calcium.”
Marcia I. Endres, a professor in the department of animal science at the University of Minnesota, sees big data becoming more common in dairy farms in the future. “There are many technologies in the market and more coming that collect a lot of information about each cow, plus there are more automated milking systems that collect samples and analyze the milk every day, generating a lot of data too,” Endres said. “Therefore, data integration and analysis coupled with decision-making tools will be very key to the success of the dairy industry in the future.”
“We’re just starting as far as the possibilities for big data, farming and milk production,” Bewley added. “I think we’re just at the beginning. We need to continue be innovative in what technologies we’re developing and working with the end user to figure out how to make them work.”
Gone are the days of low-tech livestock operations. From parlor monitoring systems to detection of hidden mastitis in your herd, companies are introducing technology that improves not only herd health but also your bottom line.
SCR Heatime Pro System
Power up your cow-monitoring capabilities with SCR Heatime Pro System (shown above). The PC-based system for real-time heat detection and health monitoring eliminates the guesswork and inconsistency of evaluating reproductive health, nutrition, and well-being of every cow.
Gain advanced cow-monitoring capabilities for data-driven decision-making by visiting scrdairy.com.
Combining advanced hardware and software, MilkMaven uses sensors to continuously check pulsator health, milk, wash, glycol temperature, and the vacuum pump. If MilkMaven detects any issues, a notification is sent to a computer or mobile device with a Web browser, offering suggestions on the possible source of the problem. The cloud-based application, which is a division of FarmMaven, also lets you perform diagnostics of the milking phase ratios with the click of a button.
Cost is dependent upon size of parlor. Visit milkmaven.com for more details.
With the RT10 SCC and iPhone app, you can easily identify high SCC or subclinical mastitis cows and make better decisions to lower your overall SCC.
Using patent-pending technology and an iPhone, accurate SCC readings can be determined in seconds – without the expense and time of sending samples off to the lab.
The device not only provides a cow’s SCC but also indicates the type of bacteria most likely to have caused the high SCC, which can help in determining proper treatment.
This tool allows you to export data into a spreadsheet or email a file to share with trusted advisers.
Cost for the RT10 device is around $2,300. The app can be downloaded for free from the App store. For more information, visit calfstar.com.
QScout Farm Lab
Undetectable to the naked eye, sub-clinical mastitis is often missed. Yet, it diminishes milk production and threatens herd health. Annually, mastitis costs the U.S. dairy industry $2 billion, or about $200 per cow.
It’s time to challenge mastitis with a new breed of on-farm diagnostics: QScout Farm Lab (shown left). This portable diagnostic analyzer identifies and differentiates leukocytes (white blood cells) in milk. Each of the three blood cell types – macrophage, neutrophil, and lymphocyte – plays a role in fighting infection and each has a different function.
Understanding their roles and ratios allows for more accurate detection of subclinical mastitis.
Estimates suggest that of the $300B global dairy producer industry, only 20% are hedging using fixed price, futures and options risk management strategies to protect themselves against volatile milk and feed price fluctuations. This underutilized tool represents a relatively new and growing commodities trading market. Vault Dairy Technologies has recently launched a platform providing new tools for more dairies to thrive by hedging against uncontrollable pricing risks.
Vault Technologies was first launched as a financial decision management tool illustrating a clear picture of future performance based on market conditions and an individual dairy’s operations. Vault keeps track of dairy hedging positions and the impact on net P&L with custom reports and user-friendly graphs. Additionally, Vault facilitates the process of stress testing a dairy’s financials and running virtual pricing scenarios to analyze price risk exposure.
Vault is not stopping there though. The company is now announcing the release of VaultTrader as the first of its kind online dairy trading platform available via desktop or tablet. For no additional charge, Vault users can now see live quotes and take action for their business by placing live option, future and spread orders in dairy, grain and other traded commodities on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Dairy leaders are now empowered with Vault to quantify the future results of today’s decisions and make actionable trades within the same platform to leverage those insights.
“Dairies who employ hedging strategies can protect themselves through milk and feed price swings,” explained Eric te Velde, owner of Open Sky Ranch. “The Vault platform allows me to take a good look at the next 24 months for my dairy, updating in realtime, allowing me to review, discuss and take action if need be.”
A new dawn of data access is shaking up the milk industry. Vault simplifies dairy risk management by helping farms improve/protect margins and forecast 24 months of future financial results. This is a trend and something progressive dairies don’t want to fall behind on.
Maassluis, September 1, 2015 – Lely releases Lely Control for iOS: an application which enables farmers to operate the Lely Juno feed pusher and Lely Discovery mobile barn cleaner with an iPhone, iPad or iPod. Teus de Jong, Product Manager Feeding products at Lely International, explains that a similar application for Android phones, which Lely introduced in June 2014, is so successful that an Apple version could not be excluded.
Thanks to a Bluetooth connection farmers can control their Juno and Discovery from a longer distance. This offers more flexibility and possibilities than the current E-link control box. Farmers can pause the machine(s) from the feeding alley without approaching the machine.
Other benefits of Lely Control are:
– Multiple users are now able to operate the same machine
– It is easy to use as a smartphone is always on hand
– It requires less maintenance
– A smartphone offers more possibilities than the current E-link control box
– Lely can update the software and add new functionalities in the future
Farmers that already work with a Juno or Discovery can order a ‘retro fit’ from their Lely Center. Lely Control can be downloaded for free in the App Store. The ‘retro fit’ package replaces the current E-link for the Bluetooth receiver. Farmers can contact their local Lely Center for more information.
DeLaval Inc. introduced today the Cell Counter ICC, an optical somatic cell counting device designed to help save time and testing costs. Used in conjunction with an iPod touch (sold separately), the device provides results in less than a minute. DeLaval Cell Counter ICC will be on display in the Dairy Innovation Center at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show September 15 – 17 in Woodstock, ON and booth 3011 – 3315 at World Dairy Expo, September 29 – October 3rd in Madison, WI.
The DeLaval ICC works in conjunction with an app available through Apple’s App Store. Features of the App include the ability to store and track individual cow results, and record the specific quarter of the udder being tested. Results may be emailed directly from the iPod and analyzed by date, test results and cow tag number.
“The DeLaval ICC provides rapid and accurate results in a portable and easy-to-use system”, states Nik Sutton, Solution Manager for Conventional Milking Systems and Herd Management, “With immediate testing, DeLaval ICC contributes to a lower SCC on the farm. The results are higher yields, better quality of milk and potentially a higher income for the dairy producer.”
Powered by a 9-volt battery, DeLaval Cell Counter ICC is extremely portable. The device works by illuminating milk samples with a specific frequency LED light emission. The light causes somatic cells to fluoresce and the image is captured with specialized optics. This image is shown to the camera lens of an attached iPod touch to give a preliminary estimate of the SCC present.
Producers interested in the ICC should note that, while it is a preliminary means to diagnose disease, it is not intended to replace veterinary advice. Producers should routinely consult their veterinarian.
Apple, iPod and iPod touch are registered trademarks and App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc.
Today DeLaval Inc. launched feed pusher FPM300, an automated system designed to simplify the task of pushing feed. The system’s straightforward design is engineered to help reduce on-farm manual labor while helping to ensure rations are always fresh, frequent, abundant and accessible. Its unique construction includes a plow with an angled blade that travels the length of the feed table, providing a simple solution with low maintenance costs. DeLaval feed pusher FPM300 will be on display in the Dairy Innovation Center at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show September 15 – 17 in Woodstock, ON and booth 3011 – 3315 at World Dairy Expo, September 29 – October 3rd in Madison, WI.
The robust system is controlled by a programmable heavy-duty Barn System Controller (BSC) box which can be customized to meet individual dairy producer preferences. It runs 24/7 without supervision, recharging downtime or requiring barn design modifications to accommodate a recharging station. Suitable for installation in both a single or double sided barn, as well as barns with crossovers and asymmetrical sides, the system is weather resistant, making it ideal for outdoor installations. Dyneema® rope technology, a premium ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene fiber, is stronger than steel, easy to repair and does not leave metal particles in the feed as it glides along the rail-mount channel.
“We estimate a producer’s return on investment will come from a decrease in manual labor plus an increase in milk production,” states Jim Mattox, Solution Manager of Feeding Systems for DeLaval Inc., “Once cows push the feed out of reach, they no longer have access to it. Lower ranked cows suffer the most as they do not get the nutritional benefits of the entire ration. Pushing feed automatically ensures cows have steady access 24 hours a day. We see less bullying at the feedbunk which improves nutrition, and consequently milk production, especially of the lower ranked members”.
Space may not be the final frontier for Anna-Lisa Paul and Robert Ferl; they want to grow plants there. Because, who knows, we may one day try to live on Mars, and to survive, we’ll have to grow our own food.
Thus far, experiments by the two pioneering scientists have proven so successful that, earlier this month, NASA recognized their research with one of its three awards in the category of the Most Compelling Results. Paul and Ferl have been conducting plants-in-space research for 20 years.
“It was indeed nice to receive the recognition from NASA,” said Paul, a research professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Horticultural Sciences. “The award recognizes our research approaches of using transgenic plants to serve as biological sensors of the space flight environment. This research is another step in moving our science forward in our exploration of how plants respond to this novel environment.”
Paul explained how all this research helps us on planet Earth.
“First, the more we can understand how plants respond to novel and extreme environments, the more prepared we are for understanding how plants will respond to the changing environments we are experiencing on Earth,” she said.
“Second, it gives the scientific community new insight into how plants sense and respond to external stimuli at a fundamental, molecular level. And last, what we learn helps inform our collective efforts to take our biology off the planet. When we leave Earth’s orbit, we will take plants with us.” added Ferl, who is the director of the UF Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research.
NASA recognized Paul and Ferl, who are also affiliated with the UF Genetics Institute, for their work on three recent experiments.
During the experiments, NASA scientists sent plants to the International Space Station to test Paul and Ferl’s ideas about how plants sense changes in their environment, and then how they respond to those changes.
“One of the first things we found was that certain types of root-growth strategies that plants use on Earth that were always thought to require gravity for guidance actually do not require gravity at all, as we saw plants use those same strategies on the space station,” Paul said.
That result led to new hypotheses: In the absence of gravity, light plays a bigger role in guiding plant roots, and that researchers could get a clue as to what underlies those strategies by looking at the genes of the plants grown without gravity.
Their next experiment gave them some answers. They found that not only do plants grow in space by adjusting their basic metabolism, they saw a big difference in how various plant parts respond to space flight.
“This also gave us a clue about how roots may use light as a tool to guide growth when gravity is not available, and that is as an indication of which direction is ‘away’ from the leaves,” Paul said.
Then, she and Ferl wondered how the changes in gene expression in the different parts of the plant guided the proteins plants use to run the basic machinery important to growth and development. Was that different in space as well?
“We found that it was, and again, that each part of the plant had its own metabolic strategy for adjusting to an environment without gravity,” Ferl said.
The two scientists launched another experiment in January. “One of the most versatile tools we use in almost all of our space flight experiments are arabidopsis plants, engineered with glowing fluorescent proteins that can ‘report’ how they are responding to their environment,” he said. “We can follow how the plant is using those fluorescent proteins in adjusting to their new environment by using specialized cameras and microscopes.”
In the latest one, they used the Light Microscopy Module on the space station to see how these fluorescent reporters change in real time in microgravity.
“We have not fully analyzed our latest experiment, but we are learning new things about the specialized cells of the root that sense gravity on Earth,” Paul said.
We invite you to take a virtual tour of a fully automated free flow Canadian barn. This robotic facility uses cutting-edge technology to optimize production. CLICK THE LINK HERE and use the map in the lower left corner to see an overview of the barn. Controls in the lower left corner can be used to navigate the barn.
Voluntary robotic milking is an exciting proposition when considering the benefits, but can fall short of expectations if the facility is not properly planned. Like any building needs a strong and organized structure, planning a VMS facility requires proper planning to ensure cow comfort, cow flow, flexibility, expandability and sustainability.
Please note the tour is intended to assist you with the planning and design of a robotic milking facility by visually demonstrating features we have found to work well. A successful robotic milking operation requires sound farm and herd management practices by dairy producers who are willing to work with technology and manage change effectively. You are encouraged to work with a qualified architect and/or contractor in consultation with your veterinarian when designing your robotic milking facility.
For years, dairy farmers around the world have worked hard at developing and breeding a more desirable higher producing dairy cow. Now with the rapid developments in understanding the genomic structure and, even more recently gene editing, this process may become obsolete. Gene editing technology can accomplish immediately what would take the dairy breeding world 50 years.
First let’s get a couple points about gene editing clear. We are not talking about Frankenstein’s monster or transgenics, such as sheep that have mouse genes to grow wool faster, or goats that have spider genes making it possible for them to produce silk. Transgenetic experiments have been around for years and have never actually made it off the research farms. Consumer backlash and regulatory constraints to transgenetics have been tremendous deterrents. quoBounty Technologies, the company that made a fast growing transgenetic salmon, has spent 16 years and $70 million trying to get the fish cleared with regulators. Three years ago, after giving up hope of convincing regulators, the University of Guelph euthanized its herd of “enviropigs”, engineered with an E. coli gene, which meant they pooped less phosphorus.
Gene editing is different in that, instead of introducing traits from other species, gene editing is about using genes that already exist. An animal could be edited to possess the best traits their species has to offer. It may sound like just a slight change but from a consumer and a regulatory perception it could be significantly different.
We are not talking about fish that glow in the dark. We are talking about cows that are born polled, or Traits such as A2 Milk. Gene editing allows us to take the traits that already exist within a species and introduce them into the bloodlines that possess the most other desirable traits. This currently falls under a regulatory loophole. The FDA in the US current regulations on genetically engineered animals, issued in 2009, didn’t anticipate gene editing and does not cover it.
As we as an industry are gaining greater understanding of dairy cattle breeding at a genomic level, the question of being able to edit that data and paste the data we like from one genome to another is becoming a reality. With the knowledge of exactly what snippets produce the highest milk production or the most desired mammary systems, gene editing would allow us to marry those genetics into on animal faster than ever before.
Current genomic testing has shown us that a “Supercow” constructed from the best haplotypes in the Holstein population would have an EBV (NM$) of $6745. This is more than 5794 points higher than the current #1 NM$ sire Seagull-Bay Charismatic (951 NM$). At the present rate of genetic progress ($74 NM$ per year), it will take us 80 years to achieve the super genomic cow. With gene editing, that process could be cut down to 4 or 5 years!
Gene editing is a significantly faster and more precise method of genetic advancement than any other approach in the world today. While you may think this process is many years down the road, some major companies are already investing in it. One such case is Genus, the parent company to ABS Global. They have been funding some research by a business called Recombinetics and the research of Scott Fahrenkug. Recombinetics has been using a gene editing process called TALENs to snip segments of DNA representing undesirable traits such as horns and add other traits such as heat tolerance or higher production.
With these companies investing heavily into new technology, it raises the question of who owns the rights to the resulting information and products. Genomic testing showed us the advantage of an early access to information. Some had significant advantages in that scenario. Just think about what exclusive access to edited gene animals will have if it means a seven times greater genetic improvement over current options. If you think a 10% advantage is a game changer (aka the approximate advantage to early genomic information) think about what a 700% advantage would mean. Technologies like IVF and sexed semen have shown us the advantage that companies that own the patents on these technologies have.
With such significant advantage in the potential of the resulting animals, there really is no question that these genetics will be embraced by the dairy industry. One need only look at the corn and seed industries for examples. Approximately 80% of the world’s soy and cotton production is GMO. Corn currently stands at 35% and significantly higher (approx. 80%) in developed production countries that allow the us of GMO products. This mass adoption of GMO technology, despite consumer backlash, demonstrates that with significant improvements, GMO products are here to stay.
Bullvine Bottom Line
In 50 years the world population will require 100% more food and 70% of this food must come from efficiency-improving technology. Unless someone discovers how to dairy on the moon, we are going to have to become significantly more efficient in our milk production methods. Gene editing offers the potential to meet this demands. Current genetic advancement rates will be hard pressed to meet in 50 years what gene editing can offer in under ten years’ time. Sure a small number of very vocal consumers will be opposed to gene editing, but the masses want cheap, safe milk. Gene editing, since it is not transgenics, offers this possibility. This raises the question, “Are the dairy breeders of the future actually scientists sitting in labs?”
Louise Hartley reports from Hannover on what is dubbed a ‘game changer’ in miking automation.
With an individual robot arm at every stall, GEA Technology launched the world’s first fully automatic external rotary parlour in Germany last week.
Called the DairyProQ and with four prototypes currently running in Germany and two in Canada, the system was described was a ‘game changer’ in dairy automation by GEA’s vice-president of large project sales, Steve Pretz.
He said: “Farmers have an increasing number of things to look after on-farm and automation will help them cope with these challenges.
“Our customers are not only seeking more efficient and profitable businesses, but young people coming in to agriculture want to ‘work to live, not live to work’. Dairy farms need to be
attractive to young people and automation is key in that.”
Press from around the world gathered in Teichroda, south east Germany to see the 40-point system, which was installed on farm in June last year.
Milking 200 cows per hour and needing one member of staff to milk, the herd of 400 Holsteins could be milked in just two hours.
The system was installed by father and son Eckehard and Stefan Blottner, who farm 1,740 hectares (4,300 acres) with pigs, beef, geese, ducks and deer as well as the milking herd in their co-operative farming enterprise Teichel e.G. Agricultural Cooperative.
On explaining why he made the investment, son Stefan Blottner, sited lesser dependence on a labour, consistency in the milking procedure and improved efficiency as the key drivers.
Previously running a five-a-side auto tandem which required two people to milk, he said: “For herds milking 400 cows or more I believe this the future. We need to keep growing – as individual farms produce more milk, others will have to make less and smaller farms will disappear.”
Dr Blottner said they wanted to move from milking two to three times per day but did not want to spend money paying good staff to milk all day long. At three daily milkings, the parlour runs for six hours per day and requires one person to watch the robots and assist with any cows which need to be manually attached and another bringing cows in to the collecting yard – the aim is to have one person doing both.
“Put simply, we can now grow the herd without diluting the co-operative’s workforce, a group of highly skilled people we have worked hard to put together.”
Consistency of milking was also a big appeal for the father and son duo. “For a cow, the best thing we can provide is a consistent milking procedure and the DairyProQ can milk cows more consistently and accurately than any workforce,” said Dr Blottner.
Cows are brought into the collecting yard and enter the rotary as normal. Each robotic arm sits in a stainless steel box within each stall divider. Teats are cleaned, dried, fore-milk stripped and post-dipped in the liner. Pre-dipping can also be applied.
“Efficacy of milking is not dependant on staff. Every cow is stimulated properly for a fast milk let down and teats are accurately dipped and performance is never variable.
“It is not about robotics – it is about investing in automation to help you do a better job.”
Since the herd has moved to three-times-a-day milking, yields have increased from an average of 28kg per cow per day to 33kg, with the highest yielding group hitting 42kg.
Somatic cell count has also seen a positive reduction, from 260,000-90,000, which could also be due to cows being housed in a new building with a better environment.
The system also claims to have a unique service system. If a robot breaks down the stall can be blocked off, leaving the remaining 39 robots to continue milking. The stainless steel unit is taken off and left in a small service room contained within the parlour building ready to be fixed in normal working hours.
When probed on cost, GEA representatives said ‘each robotic point costs significantly less than a single robot box’.
The rotary ranges from 28-80 stalls, with capacity to milk between 120 and 400 cows per hour. The system is available in the UK, with current interest and predictions of the first installation in the next two years.
Kees de Koning, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said: “The technology is ready to be applied, but it is the farmer’s choice if they go with an automated milking system or a traditional parlour. Their management skills and comfort level with technology are key factors for success.”
Also being launched was GEA’s mono-box milking robot. Geared towards farmers with up to 70 cows maximum, the robot uses the same technology as the DairyProQ rotary. It will be available to UK farmers in 2016.