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16 Feb 2021

VikingGenetics´ feed efficiency tech
commended in prestigious award

VikingGenetics has been commended in the prestigious Cream Award for Innovation for its ground-breaking feed efficiency technology.

The Cattle Feed Intake Technology (CFIT) uses deep learning and the world’s most cutting-edge 3D cameras to measure dairy cow feed intakes on a large scale, so identifying those animals which most efficiently turn feed into milk.

The difference between the most and least efficient animals has been shown to be a substantial one tonne of dry matter intake per 305-day lactation for animals giving the same amount of milk. This offers enormous scope for saving feed and cutting greenhouse gas emissions – which broadly increase in line with feed consumed – if rolled out on a global basis.

Concrete benefits for the farmers

For farmers it offers the opportunity for substantial financial savings as feed represents 70% of variable costs.

These savings will not just come from the cows themselves but through the bulls to which the cows are related. The breeding potential of these bulls is now being identified through a ‘Saved Feed Index’, in the VikingGenetics countries.

An accurate Saved feed index has the potential not only to reduce farmers’ costs considerably, but to minimize environmental impacts and improve feed systems.

“Artificial intelligence makes cows more feed efficient and climate friendly, I definitely applaud this.” John Torrance, R Torrance & Son, who has won different awards in the industry and was part of the panel.

Commercial farms, the key factor

The CFIT technology is the first to have moved the measurement of individual dairy cow feed intakes up to a commercial scale. During 2021, numbers in the trials will rise to involve 4,500 cows and up to 20 commercial farms, milking the Holstein, VikingRed and Jersey breeds.

Jan Lassen, senior research manager at VikingGenetics explains: “This in itself is highly significant as previous assessments of individual cow feed intakes have generally only been possible on experimental farms, under short spans of time, with limited animal numbers and expensive individual feeders.

“The 3D Kinect cameras we have installed use technology known as time of flight. This was developed for Xbox video games to recognise users and their gestures.   

“By placing the cameras high above the feed fence, they can accurately identify every cow by her contours, coat colour and pattern. This overcomes earlier problems of reading each cow’s identity, usually by ear tag, at a crowded feed face,” he says.

“Having individual feed intake records on commercial dairy farms can be a game-changer in modern dairy cattle management. It is something we have always dreamt about,” says Professor Nic Frigens, MoSAR, French National Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment. 

Feed intake in focus

However, even more transformative than identifying the cows has been precisely measuring the amount each animal eats. This uses the same cameras and technology to measure the quantity of feed at the fence both immediately before and after the animal feeds.

Validation undertaken during the research – which has been under way since 2015 – has shown the cameras provide a highly accurate assessment of feed intake.

The cameras are also able to accurately measure each animal’s weight, which is another important part of the evaluation.

Søren Borchersen, Chief Research and Development Officer (CRDO) for VikingGenetics says: “Just as in the human population, metabolism between cattle can be quite varied and is probably a function of several different factors.”

However, he says it is reassuring that no negative correlations have been identified between feed efficiency and other desirable traits.

“Based on this there should not be negative consequences of adding Saved Feed Index to a breeding strategy, but like every trait, it is something we will follow closely,” he says.

Useful management tool

The researchers also say that whilst the priority has been to develop genetic indexes and breed more efficient cows, CFIT also has significant scope to be used as a management tool.

“In the longer term, we expect the technology will be rolled out on a commercial basis,” says Mr Borchersen.

“A farmer who knows the amount of feed each animal consumes has valuable management information. This could have numerous uses, ranging from improving the hierarchy of the herd through better grouping to obtaining early warnings of health disorders.

“We are confident in the robustness of the technology which has now been rigorously tested in challenging conditions, including by kids on the Xbox and by cows on farms,” he says. “We believe it has the scope to transform dairy cow management as well as cattle breeding, cut the use of feed used worldwide and achieve commensurate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

He says VikingGenetics are delighted to have been commended in the award for innovation, which is part of the broader Cream Awards, issued by the UK publication, British Dairying. Results for 2021 are announced today.

Learn more about Saved feed index

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