Artificial intelligence is key to dairy herd health monitoring system

Dairy Robotics is a plug-and-play herd health monitoring system that can be operational within a few hours

On most farms there’s a lot to do, especially with dairy herds, where keeping animals healthy and in good body condition is a priority. But vigilant monitoring takes time and with ongoing labour shortages farmers are increasingly turning to technology for help. For the technology to lighten their burden, however, it must be easy to use, and this was uppermost in Cormac McHugh’s mind when he set up Dairy Robotics to develop a plug-and-play herd health monitoring system that can be operational within a few hours.

“The current manual method of scoring a herd is time-consuming and often delivers inconsistent results,” McHugh says. “Our first-of-a-kind system, which monitors both the animal’s mobility score and body condition, is automatic and consistent. We need healthier, higher-producing animals and Dairy Robotics can help farmers achieve this through early detection of potential health problems. Early detection means optimum milk production can be maintained, it provides better reproductive outcomes and also reduces emissions through increased efficiency.

“Our device can be integrated on to any farm without any specialist requirements,” McHugh adds. “As cows walk past, our reader identifies each animal’s unique ear tag. This starts recording a video stream in both 2D and 3D. After initial processing the video streams are sent to the cloud for further near real-time processing through our artificial intelligence algorithms. The animal’s scores and action recommendations are then reported back to the farmer via our app or their existing farm management system. Our app has a database of the full herd and provides trends and feedback about individual animal or general herd health.”

McHugh comes from an engineering background and has a number of animal health/management products in the pipeline, with the research and development around them ongoing over the last few years. The monitoring system is the first product to come to market following an intense development period of 12 months and McHugh has personally footed the R&D bill to date of about €400,000. The product is currently on pilot with a number of farms and the company is preparing for a funding round of €1 million to finish out development and launch towards the middle of this year. McHugh is also open to the idea of partnering with an experienced player in the dairy sector to speed up the product’s route to market.

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“World food production is facing big challenges,” he says. “For example, how are we going to feed the growing world population while at the same time reducing carbon emissions? How are we going to improve animal health and welfare with fewer people willing to work on farms? These are all problems in search of solutions and technology like ours is one of the ways forward. We haven’t even launched and already there has been significant interest in what we’re doing from across the world from individual dairy farmers, potential distributors and even national dairy boards.”

McHugh points out that another benefit of the Dairy Robotics system is that it is effectively a self-learning device which is constantly taking in data and ‘learning’ as it goes. The more it learns the more accurate it becomes. This is allowing the company to build up a growing number of data sets which can be country or cow breed specific. “Having this information will enable us to offer more accuracy and more courses of action to the farmer if an issue is flagged by the system. For example, tweaking feed rations or getting timely veterinary interventions,” McHugh says.

Dairy Robotics recently took part in UCD’s AgTech, accelerator programme for early-stage agtech and agri-food start-ups with global potential and the company is currently employing three people with more jobs to come. Customers will pay upfront for the hardware, which is based around an Intel camera, and thereafter the recurring revenue model will be software as a service.