Actionable insights for the Van der Linden brothers

July 24, 2019
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Dirk and Johan van der Linden are brothers and milk 200 dairy cows in the Southern part of the Netherlands. Since the beginning of last year, they have been participating in the OPTIfarmer project, a collaboration between the Dutch Farmer’s Organisation ZLTO, agtech company Connecterra and Agrovision, supplier of software for the international agricultural sector.

The aim of this innovation project is to advice farmers on how they can further optimise the farm and work on specific goals set for each farmer, such as shortening the calving interval. The OPTIfarmer project started in Q1 of 2018 with seven farmers. One and a half year later, great progress has been made among the group of participants. Also the Van der Linden brothers see the benefit of using data insight to better run their dairy farm.

Acting on changes in rumination behaviour

The sensors used in the project come from Connecterra. The system, named ‘Ida’, developed can detect several different cow behaviours such as eating, ruminating, walking, lying down, and standing. “Rumination is the first thing that stops when a cow is sick, and the sooner you have the early signs the better it is”, says Johan van der Linden. The sensors give the farmer insights, and in this case, alerts the farmer that a cow has an abnormal rumination activity. Ida’s insights are accurate, fast and relevant and this helps the farmer to act quick (two days) before clinical signs of the sickness unfold. This way, the farmer prevents animal health, welfare and financial problems.

“Rumination is the first thing that stops when a cow is sick, and the sooner you have the early signs the better it is.”

The Van der Linden brothers are really impressed with the speed in which the sensors can pick up anomalies from his cow herd, in a stage where the cows seem perfectly healthy from a human eye perspective. “As Ida is a self-learning system, it also requires feedback from us. When Ida spots an unusual behaviour, we have to further look at the cow and give feedback to the system what was wrong with her and how we diagnosed and treated her. By doing this, the system learns to detect problems with an even greater accuracy,” says Johan van der Linden.

Decreasing the first age of calving

In addition to being used for monitoring the health of the herd, Ida is also used to reduce the first age of calving. The age of calving is ideal between 22-23 months, in order to maximise their future lifetime profitability. Since being part of the OPTIfamer project and working with the data, coming from Ida, Van der Linden has managed to reduce the expected calving age in the heifers by a month, from 24 to 23 months. This is a significant improvement, directly translated in better productivity and ROI on the farm.

Improvements have also been made in heat detection. Efficient and profitable reproductive performance of a dairy herd requires routine, conscientious heat detection and proper timing of artificial insemination. Heat detection is often done manually, but sensors can assist in making sure that no cow is missed. And this is particularly welcome at the farm of Van der Linden farm, as their heifers are not housed in the same barn as the dairy cows. This makes it difficult to identify when specific heifers are in estrus, as well as locate exactly where the heifer is. This takes up quite some time from the farmer. “Because we house the heifers separately from the older cow, it is great to have Ida helping us indicating which animals are in estrus and where they are located. This really saves us time, says Johan van der Linden.

Ida: designed to help the farmer

“Ida combines sensor technology with machine learning and continuous analysis of data in the cloud. It makes use of advanced technology such as artificial intelligence”, says Leonie Gorter of Connecterra. In the first week after implementing the sensors, the Ida system uses the analysis of cow movements to discover herd patterns and give reports of cow behaviours that deviate. It is a self-learning system, based on machine learning and feedback from the dairy farmer. The system learns what normal behaviour, deviant behaviour and average behaviour is. When the cow behaviour changes, the dairy farmer informs the system if something was wrong and what cow/cows were affected with lameness, metritis, milk fever, mastitis or displaced abomasum for example. Ida learns what is happening on the farm and the system helps the farmer to increase the efficiency of the farm.

About the OPTIfarmer project

ZLTO’s OPTIfarmer Project brings together the (OPTI)farmer, industry specialists, technology and farm management. Every OPTIfarmer is assigned a personal success coach to assist with achieving personalised farm goals using data collected by Ida sensors as well as advice from industry specialists and consultants. In addition, the ‘OPTIfarmer Coach’ takes an in-depth look at the farmers overall farm management and work methods. Through this collaboration, coaches can offer strategic and personalised advice that aims to optimise and positively influences the farms complete 360⁰ operations. The OPTIfarmer is central to the project and his/her farm goals are the focal point. Find out more about OPTIfarmer.