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Precision livestock farming at the service of animal welfare

Precision tools are of increasing importance on livestock farms, usually to improve production efficiency. Several of them were discussed during the INRA-IRSTEA symposium held during the Clermont-Ferrand Livestock Summit in 2018. Numerous systems utilise the activity of animals to detect those which are sick or in heat. But information on activity is still under-used to evaluate animal behaviour and wellbeing, even though behaviour is generally a good reflection of how an animal is feeling in terms of its good or poor condition.

. © INRA
Updated on 12/11/2018
Published on 10/11/2018

The activity of an animal can be estimated using an accelerometer, image analysis or position sensors. For example, a “GPS-like" system can detect the real-time position of a cow (an x,y coordinate in a building thanks to a triangulation system that uses fixed sensors spread throughout the building and a collar tag on the animal’s neck. The animal’s activity is deduced from its position in the building (cubicle, feed table, corridor, etc.). The CowView system (supplied by GEA) thus detects any hyper- or hypo-activity based on four activities (eating, resting, moving, standing still) and the distance covered per day. Hyperactivity is proposed as a sign of heat, while hypoactivity may be indicative of disease.

A CowView system has been installed at INRA’s Herbipôle Experimental Farm. Scientists from the Herbivore Joint Research Unit are conducting studies on the use of these data; The data  may seem to be rather unsophisticated (position in the building) but could supply complex indicators. The scientists have thus shown that variations in the daily rhythm of activity occur one or two days before the onset of clinical signs of mastitis. As for subclinical acidosis, it can be detected from increased activity near the salt block. The evolution of social groups can also be monitored, particularly following the introduction of new animals: even after two weeks, some newly introduced cows do not mix with those previously resident. Scientists are also investigating opportunities to evaluate the cohesion of social groups and detect deleterious effects on animal wellbeing – through changes in behaviour – whether they are due to disease, stress or environmental changes.

. © INRA