The vast majority of the world’s milk and dairy products are derived from milk produced by the 270 million dairy cows that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates make up the global herd.
From animal welfare to refrigerated transport
Few of us think twice about the technologies that are vital for the safe, economic and sustainable production of the milk that we add to our teas, coffees and cereals, that is processed into cheese or yoghurts, or that forms the basis of so many dry milk powder and milk-based nutritional products.
The global dairy industry is split into commercial and private enterprises that range in size from just a single animal that produces milk to feed a family, to huge commercial farms that may include tens of thousands of animals. Whatever the size, commercial dairy farming today will inevitably relies on modern technologies for animal husbandry and welfare, milking, and waste management, and milk processing, along with local, regional, national or even international refrigerated transport and supply chains.
Factors such as urbanization, westernization of diets, increased disposable income and numbers of working women, and the concomitant rise of the middle classes – especially in developing nations – have all played important roles in the escalating demand for fresh milk and for refrigerated and temperature-stable wet and dry milk and milk-based products. And with demand continuing to increase in developing nations especially, there is a parallel need to increase milk yields and production efficiency. Challenges are centered on the drive to reduce energy and water usage and better manage waste.
A holistic approach
GEA Farm Technologies has provided innovative solutions to the livestock farming sector since 1926, and today is positioned as a world-leading total solutions provider for the dairy industry. Offering more than 20 years’ of dairy farm planning expertise, the Company takes a holistic approach that encompasses the management and optimization of all the major operations of a dairy farm, from animal health and housing, to feeding, automation of milking, manure management, consumption of energy and water and, critically, 24/7 service. With this holistic approach, GEA is striving to develop innovative technologies for the ‘Farm of the Future.’
Farming in every neighborhood
With increasing urbanization comes the need to produce more food, and farms will ideally be sited close to the cities, to reduce storage, transport and travel costs for products, supplies and the workforce, explains Maren Lűth, Product Marketing, Dairy Farming at GEA. From biological air filtration systems that rid barns of ammonia and other odors and dust, to waste recycling and energy-efficient processes and equipment, innovative technologies will be critical to facilitating the integration of tomorrow’s commercial dairy farms into urban areas.
"On the one hand, commercial dairy farms are becoming larger to be more competitive, but on the other they also have to satisfy potential objections to noise and smell, for example, and must optimize their use of resources, and effect efficient waste management systems. New and innovative technologies will allow the farm of the future to be closed and self-contained, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable, as well as ensuring optimum animal health and welfare to maximize milk quality and yield."
Estimates suggest that the average milk cow produces between 40 kg and 70 kg of manure per day. Put this into slightly wider context, and we can estimate that the UK herd of 2 million cows, for example, produces around 20 million tons of slurry every year, which, when you take the water out, equates to about 2 million tons of dry matter. These figures demonstrate that waste management will be critical to the farm of the future, and dealing with manure is a probably one of the main considerations when planning a new dairy farm or the significant expansion of an existing facility. An approval or veto at the planning stage is likely to hinge on a manure management system, Dr Lűth stresses. GEA offers a portfolio of scrapers, manure agitators, separators, spreaders and pump systems that are used to collect, store and make use of manure, for any size farm, for example by separating out the water and turning liquid manure into compost or green bedding. The focus is no longer on just disposing of manure, but on making use of the valuable constituents, and GEA is taking an active role in the research and development of new technologies that will utilize manure to generate new value for the farm.
"GEA technology plays a key role in the operation of waste to energy (WTE) plants that generate biogas by fermenting agricultural waste, including manure. The fermentation residue that is left over is concentrated by dewatering, to make transportation more cost-effective, and this concentrated residue also has a potentially high value as a fertilizer, and can be incinerated to generate energy."
Dairy farming is also water intensive, and the farm of the future will be underpinned by technologies that can capture and recycle waste water, for example to reduce water usage in vital equipment cleaning cycles. This is another area that GEA is actively researching, to develop cost-effective approaches to environmentally sound water management solutions.
Innovative technologies for milking
A focus on standardization and the automation of procedures such as feeding and milking will be key to the efficient operation of the farm of the future. GEA’s expertise spans automatic feeding and drinking technologies to ensure optimum cow nutrition and health, to automated, state-of-the-art, cow-friendly milking technologies for every size of herd, which offer optimum workflows for the dairy. The Company’s market-leading autorotor range of rotary milking parlors, for example, can milk more than 100 cows an hour, while new innovations, including robotic milking and the IQ milking cluster, milks cow quickly, gently and efficiently.
Farm management equipment and software, such as the DairyManagementSystem21, monitor and report back on all farm processes and workflows, which enables farmers and managers to see exactly how much their cows are eating and how much milk they are producing. Cow health is a particularly hot topic, Dr Lűth continues, and holistic barn concepts, combined with technologies spanning cow cubicles, brushes, mattresses and barn ventilation systems, offer the ultimate in cow comfort. And with cow health linked closely with nutrition, GEA’s customized technologies for optimized, automated feeding strategies can calculate and dispense the optimum amount and content of feed to each cow.
With our holistic approach to dairy farming, GEA technology is available to monitor cow health, and so alert the farmers if an animal or animals are below par. By identifying when even one animal’s health is a potential issue, for example by identifying changes in behavior or feeding patterns, steps can then be taken to remedy the situation early.
Bigger, smarter, and not just about milk
While the farm of the future will almost certainly be bigger, GEA technology will ensure that it is smarter, more productive, environmentally sustainable and energy efficient. Tomorrow’s dairy farm will not just be about producing milk. It is likely that the energy used to heat and light our homes will be derived from processing the millions of tons of manure that can also be also used to provide the nutrients for our crops, and the bedding for our livestock.