“We are seeing major changes in the veterinary profession, particularly in the demographic and the type of support needed by farmers,” says Matthew Dobbs, a former farm vet and now Digital Practice Lead for Stonehaven Consultancy. He is joining the Sofa Session at REAP 2021. “A good farm vet now needs to be able to understand data, statistics and the risks to really advise and help the farmer and this includes the implementation of technology.”
Matthew works at board level for several UK and US vet businesses in addition to his support for a portfolio of UK-based agri-tech start-ups, leveraging his knowledge of livestock health along with a passion for innovation across business practices.
Lameness monitoring takes 6 hours a month
One of these areas is intelligent remote monitoring and he sees this an opportunity to save time by detecting ill health at an early stage.
“Lameness is probably the biggest welfare issue in the dairy industry,” says Matthew. “All farmers are obligated to record a mobility score for the animal every 3 months, so they assess how well its walking and whether it is lame or not, and they have to report that information to their milk purchaser or red tractor assessor.
“At the moment it’s a very laborious, painstaking task, full of bias and challenge because it’s the human eye and the farmer standing there with his clipboard. We estimate this takes about 6 hours a month or about £2.5k a year to do mobility scoring.”
Matthew is currently acting MD for AgSenze, developers of smart monitors for animal behaviour; audio and visual recordings of the animals are analysed to detect underlying health conditions that might not be detectable by eye and provide constant surveillance.
Remote diagnosis of illness
“AgSenze are looking to do this lameness monitoring automatically, by locating camera’s where they can record cattle movements and link them to the animal’s records. The visual signals are input into a machine learning algorithm that can diagnose early signs of lameness and it generates a list for the farmer of the cows that need attention. Early warning can help prevent lameness.”
Matthew sees the potential to extend the technology to other applications that currently rely on the human eye, this would increase the return on investment. For example, the company is looking at using the cameras and supporting models to monitor growth rates and body condition. When combined with weight this will provide automatic and objective grading of the animals.
Digitising this information and making it available to the abattoir would reduce the requirement to visit farmers or transport animals to market.
Matthew explains: “With the camera system an abattoir could look at the cows and make some very objective measures – ‘that cow has a body condition score of 3, it weighs 550kg, we know it will grade out at this grade when it gets slaughtered, so what we need the farmer to do is to feed up 3-4 other animals in that pen that aren’t quite at that grade, and then we’ll take the whole lot in in 2 weeks’ time’.
“So, if the farmer has a contract in place, the abattoir would commit to having those 10 animals, monitor them and call them in at the right time for them – so they’re at perfect spec.
“To close the loop, we are also looking at putting a camera in the lairage, where the animal first comes into the abattoir, to see if it graded out as well as expected. All this will feedback into the algorithm, so it is learning and improving all the time.”
REAP opportunity to meet the ecosystem
Matt sees REAP as a great opportunity to meet partners and investors: “There may be other businesses out there who see an application for our technology that we haven’t thought about. Smart monitoring can be the eyes and ears for range of applications.”
REAP 2021 is on 10th November 2021 and provides an opportunity to network with people from across the ecosystem.
REAP 2021: Changing Time(s) for Agriculture – 10th November 2021
Imagine a world where agriculture is not constrained by time. The ability to manage and manipulate time is increasing and REAP 2021 will explore the advances in technology and breakthroughs in science that is making this possible.
REAP brings together people from across the agri-tech ecosystem who believe that innovation is the engine for change. The conference bridges the gap between producer needs and technology solutions and showcases exciting agri-tech start-ups.