Big data: transforming animal health and cow welfare

June 17, 2024

GEA helps dairy cows avoid lameness with AI solution

Identifying animal health issues early is crucial for sustainable food production. The Internet of Things (IoT), sensors and Big Data processing enable real-time monitoring, alerting farmers of livestock issues to allow for timely intervention. GEA recently added a pioneering AI system to its solutions to help dairy farmers combat lameness in cattle, helping to improve animal welfare and productivity.

The dairy industry is constantly innovating to lower the environmental impact of milk productions. It does so by focusing on topics such as reducing emissions or decreasing the level of water and energy consumption. These efforts are driven by the need to meet the continuously rising demand for milk and milk products, fueled by a growing world population and an increasing middle class.

One important lever for making dairy farming more sustainable is cow health. Cow welfare and good herd health are the foundation for any successful dairy farm and requires farmers’ constant attention. 

Importance of cow welfare for sustainable dairy production

Healthy and well-cared for cows experience fewer illnesses and therefore produce more milk of higher quality. This increases farmer income while reducing expensive veterinary costs. Moreover, farms with high welfare standards are better equipped to adapt to changing regulations and market demands. Such farms can improve their resilience to crises, like disease outbreaks, by maintaining overall herd health and especially reducing the occurrence of diseases such as lameness. 

Farms that practice good animal husbandry and prioritize animal health are able to attract skilled labor more easily which is essential in times of skilled labor shortages. Lower employee turnover rates in dairy operations support better business performance.  Also, farms that prioritize animal welfare tend to become leaders in the industry, driving innovation and setting standards which enhances relationships in local communities and with other stakeholders. 

Finally, from an environmental aspect, good animal welfare practices naturally align with sustainable farming methods, which can reduce the environmental footprint of dairy farming. For example, healthy cows are more efficient in converting feed into milk, optimizing resource use and reducing waste.

Fight against lameness in dairy cattle

One of the biggest challenges for high-producing dairy cows is lameness. The root cause is often a foot disease due to injury or infection. A review amongst more than 50 studies on dairy cow lameness published in the Veterinary Journal 2023 summarized a mean prevalence of around 23% of lameness in dairy cows worldwide with varying prevalence depending on region and management conditions. The disorder is extremely painful and has a severely negative impact on the health and welfare of cows. For example, a lame cow produces less milk and if the illness is not treated, it may be culled from the herd. 

The cost of lameness, which includes milk production losses, lower reproductive performance and bills for veterinary treatment – which may easily run into hundreds of dollars – per animal and per year depending on the severity of the infection. Even the drug treatments themselves cause lower yields since this milk cannot be sold. Because of its prevalence and damage to herd health and milk output, dairy farmers must keep a close eye on their cattle. But how can this be handled in times of growing herd sizes and more complex dairy operations? 

The first line of defense in preventing foot disorders is always good cow management. This begins with providing appropriate housing conditions as well as disinfecting and trimming hooves regularly. Detecting the early signs of lameness is difficult and requires training and experience. Cows will naturally try to hide any signs of lameness which means the number of undetected cases can be quite high. As herd size increases and dairy operations become more complex, keeping an eye on individual cows is more challenging, but it does not have to be. Today, farmers can benefit from smart livestock technologies that automate animal monitoring.

By using this AI-based software, dairy producers can monitor their cows more efficiently and precisely and react quickly to improve animal welfare and productivity.

Holger Siegwarth

Vice President Digital Solutions and Services, GEA

Artificial Intelligence enables leap in precision livestock farming

For the early detection and prediction of lameness, GEA recently acquired the artificial intelligence (AI) solution CattleEye. The CattleEye system features a camera positioned above the exit path of a milking system to capture and record each cow as it leaves the parlor. The accompanying software analyzes the recorded footage, focusing on the movement patterns of the cows to detect any irregularities. While it evaluates these patterns, the software assigns a mobility score to each cow, indicating if animals are in good physical shape and properly fed.

Livestock monitoring with CattleEye

"GEA has always been committed to animal health and welfare as a necessary precondition for sustainable and profitable milk production,” says Holger Siegwarth, Vice President Digital Solutions and Services at GEA. “Implementing innovative AI technologies into our herd management tools is a natural next step to take in our Next Generation Farming philosophy. By using this AI-based software, dairy producers can monitor their cows more efficiently and precisely and react quickly to improve animal welfare and productivity”, Siegwarth points out. Another major advantage of the CattleEye system is that it is suitable for new as well as existing dairy farms, regardless of the milking system used. 

Scientific evidence proves reliability

In 2021, the University of Liverpool conducted an independent blind study at three UK dairy farms comparing the results of the CattleEye system versus results from expert human observations. The study concluded that CattleEye performed similar to an expert human when it came to scoring locomotion but outperformed the human in detecting foot lesions. In a recent randomized control trial at another large UK dairy farm, it was observed that only 6% of cows monitored by CattleEye became lame versus the control group which saw 14% of cows becoming lame based on the use of existing lameness management protocols. 

“As the industry awaits more data, it is already clear that AI tools like CattleEye help dairy farmers increase the efficiency and health of their herds,” says Siegwarth. Milking healthier cows means greater milk production which helps farmers remain profitable while living up to the consumer expectations of cow welfare.

Dairy Farming Insights podcast

Tune in to GEA Dairy Farming Insights – the infotainment podcast for the dairy farming network!

Whether you are experienced farmer, just starting out or interested in the world of dairy, join us as we explore the ever-evolving field of farming and tell stories of success, challenges and innovation. We will be talking about modern and future oriented milk production, based on our Next Generation Farming pillars: animal welfare, flexibility and sustainability for the better.

Join our cowmunity that takes you on a journey through the vastness of milk production – your source of knowledge and inspiration in every episode!
Check out episode 7: Transforming cow welfare with AI: A new era in lameness detection

Spotify | Apple Music | RSS Feed

Receive news from GEA

Stay in touch with GEA innovations and stories by signing up for news from GEA.

Contact us

We are here to help! With just a few details we will be able to respond to your inquiry.