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The implications of precision livestock farming on sustainable dairy

Precision animal husbandry, according to researchers, produced more sustainability on various dairy farms than conventional practises.

Precision livestock farming approaches involve installing sensors and instruments on livestock farms and/or animals to monitor them and assist farmers in making decisions. Precision livestock husbandry recognises warning signs and increases cattle efficiency.

This monitoring has a direct impact on animal welfare, health, and production, as well as on farmer lifestyle (fewer hours worked), knowledge, and traceability of livestock products. Instead, the indirect implications include a reduced carbon footprint and enhanced social-economic indices of cattle products.

Researchers from the University of Milan in Italy investigated the development of a dairy farming indicator that takes into consideration the indirect repercussions.

Dairy farmers’ sustainability cornerstones

The indicator was created by merging the three sustainability pillars (with particular criteria): environmental (carbon footprint), social (animal welfare freedoms and antibiotic usage), and economic (cost of technology and labour utilisation).

It was then tested on three dairy farms in Italy, where a baseline conventional scenario (BS) was contrasted to an alternative scenario (AS) that used precision animal farming methods and better management solutions.

The first farm investigated heat stress, while the other two focused on the identification of oestrus occurrences and the impact of unrestricted access to pasture.

The findings showed that the carbon footprint in all AS decreased by 6% to 9%, and the socioeconomic metrics improved animal and worker welfare, with slight variances according to the investigated approach.

Investing in precision livestock farming methods has a beneficial impact on all or almost all of the sustainability indices, with case-specific considerations. According to the researchers, since the indicator is a user-friendly tool that allows for the testing of many scenarios, stakeholders (policymakers and farmers) might use it to choose the optimal path for investments and incentive programmes.

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