Did you know half of the world’s available land is set aside for agriculture? Did you also know it’s for animals, not food crops? This practice is called animal husbandry, and is a major industry in virtually every nation today. 

So what exactly is animal husbandry, also known as animal farming and pasturage? Why does it garner so much attention especially from environmentalists to animal welfare advocates? And why is the computer industry involved? We look to address these questions and more today.

An Overview of Animal Husbandry 

Animals are raised by people for a wide variety of reasons: labor (as in the case of large animals to plow fields); a food source; raw material such as hides and bones for goods like clothing and tools; protection; and companionship (example: pets). Animal husbandry is a branch of agriculture primarily concerned with livestock – animals as food and materials. 

Animal husbandry covers a wide range of activities, including care and grooming, breeding, accommodation, and hygiene of livestock. Interestingly, there is no single universally agreed definition of which animals are livestock. 

An agreed-upon “list” of livestock usually starts with:

  • Cattle 
  • Sheep 
  • Goats 
  • Pigs

Chicken and other poultry birds are considered by many cultures to be livestock but not all. Buffalos, the alpaca, and llama, on the other hand, may or may not be depending on the culture. Other more exotic livestock include rabbits and guinea pigs.

Broader definitions of animal husbandry add insects like honey bees and crickets. The raising of fish and other marine species for food may also be considered animal husbandry though they usually fall under their own separate category (aquaculture).  

Specialists in nations where animal husbandry is heavily industrialized go by many titles:

  • Agricultural managers
  • Animal breeders
  • Animal scientists
  • Farmworkers
  • Farmers
  • Ranchers

Challenges with Environment and Livestock Health

Animal husbandry in the modern era is a large-scale business. Cattle as beef in the US alone is a near 80 billion dollar industry

Challenges are numerous. Two that livestock owners have to contend with are the impact of their animals on the environment, and concerns around animal health.

Environmental Impact of Animal Husbandry

Animal husbandry uses nearly 70 percent of agricultural land. This can have detrimental effects due to overgrazing, habitat loss, overfishing, etc. Livestock, especially large ones like cattle, generates nearly 15 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. This can add to climate change. 

Animal Health Management

Livestock is often intensively managed in industrialized farms. Dairy cows may be kept in zero-grazing conditions; pigs may be housed in climate-controlled buildings called factory farms and never allowed to go outdoors; and poultry may be reared similarly in cages under lighting-controlled conditions.

These can lead to health problems like metabolic and infectious diseases. This decreases their productive life-span and increases costs to the farmers.

Other challenges in animal husbandry include:

  • Vagaries of weather
  • Lack of pasture and/or quality feed
  • Scarcity of water 
  • Breeding issues 
  • Labor market
  • Marketing and trade  
  • Socioeconomic constraint

Tech Solutions 

Originally, the cyclical nature of livestock economics made it difficult for owners to justify the high upfront costs of implementing livestock technology as solutions. But with their livelihood increasingly tied to their animals and their well-being, many owners are making the growth, development, reproduction, and well-being of each one critically important. 

Two technologies being explored are sensor technology (“smart cow”) and data integration. 

Smart Cows and other Precision Animal Farming

Sensors on livestock like RFID tags give owners the ability to monitor their animals continuously in real-time throughout their lives. Individual animal feed consumption, feedlot movement, temperature, lameness, milk production, meat composition and quality, and weight gain can all be monitored with today’s sensor technology. Often, it can be done without any human intervention or presence.

This early detection of health problems allows targeted use of medication through smart or precision targeting. This improves the health of the animal and lowers its mortality.

Furthermore, the data collected from livestock from thousands of farms via industrial mini PCs can be used to find solutions for the industry as a whole. Better management practices of disease, animal welfare, and productivity (smart farming) in turn lead to other social benefits such as less waste, greater efficiency, and lower environmental impact.  

Big Data in Animal Husbandry

A major need in the livestock industry is for more integration of technologies like the above smart sensors and massive networks like Internet of Things. A dairy herd manager’s office can easily be filled with multiple computers and screens, each dedicated to a different technology or record-keeping program.

Are there diseases affecting the herd? If so, what and where in the field? What’s the percentage of the herd ready for breeding? How much feed is actually being consumed during the winter months? These and more need programs to look for the requested information, pull data from multiple sources, summarize the data nicely, then display it into one app or industrial panel PC. Owners can use it to make well-informed decisions to answer their questions and more. 

Closing Comment 

Animal husbandry is the science of looking after and breeding animals usually for meat, fiber, eggs, milk, and other food stuff. Challenges from effects on the environment to animal welfare have many livestock owners looking at technology for solutions.

Contact an expert at Cybernet if you’re into animal husbandry and are looking at industrial computers in meeting today’s livestock challenges. 

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