Sensors and their role in livestock production


EuroTier 2018 is being presented under the guiding theme "Digital Animal Farming", and this year’s event will present international know-how on the use of sensors that help take the guess work out of livestock management.


Everyone knows that a slight breeze during times of high temperature can be pleasant, but when ambient temperatures are cold, that same wind can make us shiver. Even when the thermometer shows a temperature where we might expect to be comfortable, drafts introduce what experts call the “wind-chill” factor, and this must be considered when assessing the climate in any given location.

In animal husbandry, this factor is taken into account. In pig accommodation, for example, where drafts can unsettle the animals, guidelines suggest that airflow rates should not exceed 0.2 meters per second (m/s). This can be temporarily increased to 0.6 m/s in the summer when outdoor temperatures are higher, but only in housing for adult animals.

Of course, the climate within livestock buildings is influenced by more than the wind speed and temperatures; other key parameters are humidity, light and pollutants. But how does a farmer know if everything is in balance? A “gut feeling” that everything is okay is just not good enough for today’s professional livestock producers.

The solution is to install sensors that can supply data to support management decisions regarding climate settings in livestock buildings. As the word “sensor” is derived from the Latin "sentire", which translates as “feel”, the technology is literally and linguistically linked to measuring “feelings”.

Sensors provide objective information that farmers looking after all livestock species can use. Take humidity, for example: if it is too low, it can damage an animals’ respiratory system; but if it is too high that can also be bad, as the moist air will condense into water in the building, which can promote mold and corrosion.

The theme at EuroTier 2018, which takes place at Hanover Exhibition Center, Germany, from 13 to 16 November 2018, is "Digital Animal Farming – Management Support. Animal Health. Food Safety.", and the event will highlight technologies for successfully combining productivity and animal welfare, as well as information management and the sustainable use of natural resources. The organizer, DLG (German Agricultural Society), together with partners from industry, science and consulting, will explain the importance of digitization for modern livestock farming, with examples explained in special features and forum events.

For example, visitors to this year’s trade fair will be able to find out how sensors and control units can be networked to keep multiple interacting parameters within their ideal ranges to produce the best climate and lighting for any livestock species. Cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry all place different demands on their environment, and sensors and climate control systems can monitor and manage these requirements. They can also alert the farmer if something goes wrong, which is very important where pollutants are involved, so that action can be taken quickly to rectify the situation.

While sensors for indoor climate and lighting control aid management of all animals in a building, special sensors are also available that allow monitoring of individual animals. Already, sensors allow identification of the animal and its activity, including motion profile and feeding behavior, while physiological data, such as the pH of the rumen or body temperature can also be detected readily. And new sensors capable of monitoring new parameters are being introduced all the time.

The ideal situation, some experts say, would be the monitoring of every animal throughout its lifetime. Milk, meat, eggs and other farm products are already tested along the value chain, and earlier information collected at individual animal level – for example milk quality monitoring that is already carried out on some dairy farms – would complete the data set.

These new developments are rapidly gaining momentum, and the president of the University of Osnabrück, Professor Dr. Wolfgang Lücke, says the artificial intelligence used to analyze the data collected by sensors is creating entirely new options in agriculture. The expertise of the individual farmer will influence if and how the new technologies are used.

Sensors, either for the entire buildings or individual animals, can be retrofitted into existing systems or installed as part of the construction of new livestock accommodation. In both cases, one thing is already clear – farmers who want to know more about the future of Digital Animal Farming should attend EuroTier 2018.

Detailed information for anyone considering a visit to EuroTier can be found online at: