21 September 2001

Video imaging can predict liveweight

Silsoe researchers are confident they have developed a measuring method and computer-assisted model to predict pig liveweight and conformation accurately, providing feeding information and breed is known.

The visual image analysis method works by a welfare-friendly remote video taking pictures of a pigs back while it is feeding, said researcher Colin Whittemore.

"The computer is able to produce a three-dimensional description of animals in real growth time, so control could be taken over nutritional and waste management in an integrated system."

Technology can be tamed

The agenda for 21st Century animal production was set at a

meeting of the British Society of Animal Science and

Institute of Agricultural Engineers. Hannah Velten reports

BESET by social and economic pressures, UK farming will have to change to meet production targets profitably, minimise environmental pollution and promote animal welfare and food safety.

The question is how to achieve this complex and daunting task. Addressing delegates, Andy Frost from Silsoe Research Institute (SRI) said farm staff are relied upon to manage stock with limited assistance from technology.

"Whatever the livestock system, there are a set of inputs – such as stock and feed – and outputs – including product quality and environmental pollution.

"However, all inputs and outputs are interconnected in a complex way – it is not possible to manage growth by controlling nutrition without affecting health, welfare and environmental emissions," he said.

Mr Frost believes it is unrealistic for skilled farm staff to control all system outputs simultaneously to ensure optimum performance of individual animals.

"The engineers role is to develop technology which can automatically control all farm outputs by monitoring all relevant processes involved and their interactions."

But stockmen will always have ultimate responsibility for care of their animals, he added.

This brave new world vision is a long-term aim, with much scientific research needed to determine and monitor all the factors – biological, chemical and physical – involved in animal production.

Conference delegates indicated the need for sensors to monitor factors, including early detection of disease, ways to assess feed quality and detection of pollutants.

According to SRIs Toby Mottram, only 2% of dairy producers use automatic monitoring technology, such as pedometers, perhaps in part because equipment is seen as uneconomical.

With SRI developing ovulation and mastitis detection sensors to be added to robotic milkers, Dr Mottram said that new technology must have cost benefits for the producer. "Mastitis detectors may become part of quality assurance schemes," he added.

Prof Chris Knight of the Hannah Research Institute believes that technology will become more important for larger intensive herds, particularly the use of fully automated milking (AMS).

However, he is concerned about technologys impact on welfare. "AMS has been almost viewed as a romantic technology where cows have the freedom of choice when to be milked. But when cows are milked too often they can have exacerbated metabolic problems." &#42

TECHNOLOGY

&#8226 Monitor and control production.

&#8226 Need for cost-effectiveness.

&#8226 Future research needed.