Hey: Improve your Livestock Farming !!!

Livestock farming main purpose is feeding humans. Beef and dairy products are priority items on a table, given its rich composition. And although not everyone — globally — is able to consume these products and derivates on a daily basis, the increase of an upcoming worldwide middle class, will also increase the need for these products and surely prompt their production increase. Adding to this, world population is expected to reach 9 billion around 2050, so food supply will have to adjust, further prompting production capability. Livestock animals are also responsible for quite a share of Methane emissions, which is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gases (GHG). Needless to say this poses a problem. New technologies and productions methods allow increased productivy and efficiency. Can these two go hand in hand?

There are two main GHGs emission sources, coming from i) industrial energy production and ii) industrial food production. These sources are responsible for the emission of Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide. Those gases impact have different lifespans, nonetheless the three are considered “long lasting” GHGs and considered more relevant to the problem. Here are the proportions.

The three “bad boys” breakdown: CO2-72%, CH4-18% and N2O-9% [http://www.climate-change-knowledge.org]
Methane CH4 breakdown [http://www.climate-change-knowledge.org]

Regarding Methane, livestock is responsible for around 40% of it, meaning 7,2 of the overall emission, which is quite relevant. The cause is that ruminant plant digestion releases methane from the gut. Actually it is estimated that livestock supply chains account for 14,5% of all human-induced GHG emissions, with cattle accounting for 61% of GHG produced by livestock [“Precision livestock farming for reproductive maintenance optimisation: a survey”, R. Bexiga et al, published in Food futures: ethics, science and culture, 2106]. Well, not all livestock animals produce the same amount, check this comparative infographic, just out of curiosity.

Per year: Methane emissions from different sources [The Methane Makers]

Overall GHG pollution is a global problem, and is being addressed as such by the governamental agencies. In the case of the EC the regulations and incentives regarding livestock farming, these have slowly but surely progressed towards a more sustainable and ecological footprint. This is reflected on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the EC, as in other world entities.

The radical change in the orientation of the CAP is demonstrated by the evolution of expenditure, echoing the policy shift since 1992, away from product based support towards producer support and considerations for the environment (http://ec.europa.eu)

Ecological and economical needs are the drivers that promoted the development and use of Precision Livestock Farming (PLF). The concept is based in the application and adoption of state-of-the-art technologies that allow and promote better animal production processes, thru the use of real-time monitoring, data collection and correlation, and better decision making.

One of the main drivers of efficiency increase in farming is related to the optimisation of the reproductive performance of cattle. Reprodutive inneficciency has a negative impact on the economical and ecological sustainability. In the European Community CAP 2014–2020 this has been registered has one of the ratios for cow-suckler incentives, by using minimum levels of fertility. Two relevant and sequential processes are directly related to this performance: successful insemination and calving. Reproductive improvements will allow mitigation of unproductive animals and thus render herd sizes smaller for the same productive capacity. It is estimated that ideal fertility levels in cattle would lower Methane emissions by 24% and therefore its ecological footprint. From the economical perspective, having a smaller herd would use a less land, less water and food, and less vet care, etc [“Precision livestock farming for reproductive maintenance optimisation: a survey”, R. Bexiga et al, published in Food futures: ethics, science and culture, 2106].

Ireland is recognised as one of the worlds biggest and most proficient cattle breeder. They actually export 90% of their beef, they are EC biggest exporter and 5th worldwide, and thus also the one of the most responsible for Methane emissions. But they are also one of the most focused. They know their deficiencies, their weaknesses, and strategically they know where to head to. Ireland Beef Data and Genomics Programme started in May 2015 and is clearly targeting long term benefits for this industry, as they want to keep in the front of the race:

“[…]and it involves funding of some €300 million over the next six years, and builds on the State’s investment in data recording and genomics in recent years. It will address widely acknowledged weaknesses in the maternal genetics of the Irish suckler herd, make a positive contribution to farmer profitability and reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of Ireland’s beef production.” [Beef Data and Genomics Programme: Discussion]

The market already offers several technological mature options for detection of sexual receptivity (oestrus) and calving initiation detection. Farm managers will have to approach this as with any other issue related to investment and return on investment (ROI). What is fully recognised is the need to improve on farming efficiency, and in cattle production in particular due to economical and ecological factors, and even more so due to state incentives.

The Moocall calving detector [www.moocall.com]

Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes [The Methane Makers].

Farming optimisation actions should be included in every farmers short term strategy checklist. No matter the size of your operation, there is no excuse (although it makes a big difference in the scope and range of the actions, we all know that). The farming operation will need to be revised according to new paradigms: monitoring, data mining, automation, IoT, “smart-farming” and others alike, will change the way we “farm”. Be ready to change, embrace the change.

Strategy, as always, is your best friend. Use it for your advantage.

Cheers. Thanks for reading. Likes and comments are useful. Enjoy.

Pedro Faria

:: www.nostra-prius.pt :: facebook.com/nostraprius ::






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