Enhanced Milk Production Techniques from the Land of Milk and Honey

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Excerpted from Solution Nation: One Nation is Disproportionately Responding to the World’s Most Intractable Problems

Afimilk monitors approximately four million individual cows in some fifty countries. The Company gathers reams of data about each cow, synthesizes the data and sends reports and alerts regarding the well-being of the monitored cows to dairy farmers.

The Company uses three primary data capture tools. First, scales are used to weigh the cows. Second, cows are outfitted with smart tracking devices, often in the form of neck collars. These sensors never stop functioning during their five year lives, require no battery replacement during that time and transmit data about the cow every five to 15 minutes. Embedded pedometers measure the cow’s eating time, resting time, distance walked and detect when the cow is getting fidgety. The tracking devices also detect other states that the cow experiences such as when she is ruminating (regurgitating her food).

The third set of Afimilk’s data capture tools are found on the milk line. One device quantifies milk components—such as fat, protein and lactose—in the milk that each cow produces. The other device on the milk line measures the milk’s weight and conductivity. 

Empowering Dairy Farmers with Data

What is the connection between Afimilk collecting so much data about specific cows and the profitability of the farm or the well-being of the herd?

With the extensive data that Afimilk collects, alerts can be sent with bullseye accuracy regarding cows in need of more attention. If a cow is not resting enough or is walking too much, she might be in need of more rest. If a cow is too hot, she might need to spend more time in the cowshed. Data interpretation may indicate that selected cows need to eat more or that their feed should be adjusted with supplements or mixed with crops such as alfalfa.

If conductivity tests that measure the current flowing through produced milk reveal abnormal pH levels, the contributing cow could have mastitis which is a potentially fatal mammary gland infection. If the ratio of fat-to-protein in a cow’s milk deviates too far from one-to-one the cow may have a negative energy balance. This means the cow is less likely to become pregnant because she is producing too much milk, and burning too much protein, relative to the feed she is consuming. Without such continuous monitoring, cows would be subjected to expensive blood or urine tests, risk being treated without being tested, or remain neglected.

Data collection becomes very valuable when impregnating cows. Dairy farmers want the most prolific milk producers to reproduce so that the best genetic lines will endure. However, the best milk producers have the most difficulty getting pregnant. Since the window for insemination is very tight, pinpointing when a cow is ovulating is extremely important. Cows should become pregnant between 60 and 100 days from their last calving. Since pregnancy rates are below 50%, more than one attempt is usually necessary to impregnate cows. The longer it takes to impregnate a cow the more money will be lost as a result of delays in the start of the next lactation (which only occurs after calving). Measuring a cow’s activity and rumination patterns enable farmers to predict calving and thus determine when farmhands should be available to assist with the birthing process in case any complications arise.

Proof is in the Pudding  

One example of Afimilk’s technology boosting milk output comes from Vietnam. Several years ago, Vietnam imported cows from New Zealand, each of which was producing an average of four tons of milk a year. Since the conditions (such as temperature) in Vietnam are much less conducive to milk production, one would think that those imported Kiwi cows would experience dwindling production. With Afimilk’s data management capabilities, the opposite happened; the cows soon began producing 10 tons of milk a year.

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