Recently, I talked about the need to go beyond traditional farming approaches, and adopt new services, such as Porphyrio®, to ensure we optimize poultry production and meet the growing challenge of feeding our increasing population.
I thought it would be worth expanding on this crucial topic and looking more closely at ‘Big data’ and how the insights it provides can make a huge difference in our industry. ‘Big data’ is a central part of modern life and can play a key role in improving a business’ productivity; and, in the case of the poultry industry, animal health and welfare standards too. There is now a myriad of ways to collect data on flock development in real time – including in-barn sensors to detect lighting levels, water consumption and temperature – so that producers from all parts of the production process can react accordingly.
However, data collection alone is not a ‘silver bullet’ to solve all potential issues. Success with big data is not just about the information you collect, it’s about the insights you gain, and most crucially how you apply those insights. Data needs to be accurately assessed to correctly identify ‘cause and effect’ issues, and avoid taking actions based on correlated events alone. A clear understanding of the underlying data/processes is required and data should cover the range and variability producers are interested in to form a solid basis for making predictions.
Tackling the challenges
Continuous collection and analysis of large volumes of farm data and biostatistics allows producers to get a much better grip on their systems and identify any weak spots. Graphs can give a visual representation of what is happening compared to what should be happening at any point in the production process. Farmers are able to make better-informed decisions earlier in the process when they have access to data regarding issues such as feed consumption and health. The insights gained allow them to create optimal living conditions for the animals, which might include introducing a new lighting system for instance.
The benefits of detailed insights are clear and measurable, and include: reduced feed costs; better animal performance (measured by weight gain or egg production); better product quality (carcass yield, meat and egg quality); healthier animals (lower mortality, better uniformity); and improved supply/demand ratio.
No chick or flock is the same; its origin and history makes it unique. Using technology improves producers’ ability to meet the specific needs and requirements of the demand-driven poultry production chain in terms of the expected product weight, size and quality. Rather than relying on predictions, smart algorithms can ‘do your thinking for you’ and deliver the right product at the right time, all the time. Daily priorities can be identified while still considering the long-term strategy.
Consumers are increasingly becoming more health conscious and expect transparent supply chains especially in the more developed nations. They want to know where their food came from and that the animals were treated well. The available information enables the farmer to control and demonstrate results based on data from the farm, feed mill, hatchery, parent stock, rearing farm, veterinarian, egg packer or slaughterhouse – opening the whole chain to scrutiny.
The bigger picture
Big data can help with more than just individual farm’s challenges. As the world’s population increases and natural resources become depleted, it is increasingly important to introduce modern feeding concepts – using digital technologies and the resultant connectivity. This will help address issues of responsible consumption allowing food to be produced within our planetary boundaries.
When introducing a big data approach, it is best to take small steps and not expect to be able to process huge amounts of data immediately. An open mind and willingness to make changes is essential. You’ll probably find you discover more questions than answers as you begin to find out more about your processes. That’s why it is worth considering working with other professionals who can help you learn faster and achieve your goals.
Artificial intelligence, cloud computing and big data have great potential to assist in meeting the variety of challenges faced by the poultry industry and wider society. Using big data and the associated technologies allows producers to describe their situation, monitor it, analyze it and then optimize their performance; truly turning potential into productivity all along the poultry production chain.
Johann Fickler, Vice President, Precision Livestock Farming at Evonik