Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Sainsbury’s invests in new AI vet tech to enhance animal welfare on dairy farms

Sainsbury’s has become the first retailer in the world to invest in new AI veterinary technology used to measure and enhance positive animal welfare on dairy farms, which could revolutionise the approach to cattle care.

In partnership with Vet Vision AI, a new spinout company from the University of Nottingham, Sainsbury’s is trialling new technology which has been designed to spot when cows are happy and healthy, and why. The cows are monitored through low cost and portable cameras which can be used by vets on multiple farms.

The AI works by recognising patterns in behaviour, analysing and turning video footage into real-time, accurate data. As well as monitoring behaviour, the AI will offer farmers suggestions on ways to further improve the animals’ lifestyles. Examples of this include housing improvements for better comfort and animal engagement and providing enrichment such as cow brushes, similar to a back scratcher, to reduce stress.

The ability for round the clock monitoring enables more informed decision making, as farmers will have unique insights into cow welfare that they may not be able to identify with standard vet visits. The continuous analysis of behaviour also allows for a ‘test and learn’ approach to the suggested welfare tactics.

The use of AI on farms is an expanding area, but what sets this technology apart is the ability to show when a cow is thriving, as opposed to just spotting illnesses and ailments. The constant monitoring can also identify diseases early, preventing vets having to treat disease later down the line.

Beyond the benefits for the animal, the tech promotes a step forward in farming efficiency as a healthy cow means a more productive cow. If, for example, the AI advises improving cow comfort through increased lying time, this then may lead to better leg health and more milk produced for the same amount of feed, as the cow is stronger on its hooves.

Currently on 30 of Sainsbury’s Dairy Development Group farms, the aim is to roll out the technology further next year. The SDDG was founded in 2007 to provide more support to farmers. It includes around 170 farms who supply Sainsbury’s with its own brand milk.

“I have begun to use this AI technology with dairy herd health clients as part of our routine monitoring of health and welfare. The ability of the system to observe the cows’ natural behaviours without disturbing the animals, and to turn these observations into hard outcomes, is of huge value when planning interventions to improve foot health, udder health, fertility performance and so on,” said Dr James Breen, Professor in Cattle Health at the University of Nottingham.

Dr Matt Turner, Vet and Agriculture Manager at Sainsbury’s, said: “Investing in British farming and continuously improving animal health and welfare are key priorities for us and this innovative new technology will mean we can help both farmer and animal.

“Our dairy farmers that are using the technology are already seeing real benefits and we look forward to expanding it to our wider network of Dairy Development Group farms soon.”

Dr Tom Angel, Veterinary Surgeon at Synergy Farm Health, said: “Vet Vision AI has allowed us to identify positive animal welfare on farms, such as increased lying times and cow comfort, as well as management factors that need addressing to improve these outputs. The use of the computer vision technology has then been able to assess the impact of any changes we have implemented, objectively revealing how the animals have responded positively to the environmental and management changes.”

Dave Bacon, dairy farmer at Gleadthorpe Farm, said: “I know that happy, comfortable cows produce more milk, but accurately measuring and knowing how to improve cow comfort can be challenging. Using Vet Vision AI, we were able to measure how comfort levels improved after we upgraded our housing and put new cow mattresses in. Knowing that my cows are more comfortable as a result means I can feel confident the investment was worth it.”

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