The European Association of Animal Production (EAAP) held its 66th Conference in the amazing modern city of Warsaw last week (31/08-3/09/15). The EAAP of which I am a member through British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) is a sprawling organisation covering every sort of foul, mammal and fish farmed in Europe but it has steadily evolved precision livestock farming (PLF). Where once half a dozen engineers would get together to talk about using sensors to monitor disease and oestrus, now whole sessions with large audiences talk about robotic milking and new monitoring techniques.

I was there to report on the statistics of rumen pH in dairy cows which would been impossible even 2 years ago before there were enough farms using farmBolus. We analysed 1876 cow days of rumen pH data from ten farms with different systems.  All the anonymous data will be available on . We found virtually no differences, the mean rumen pH of a high yielding herd (12000 litre) was 6.3 and that of 7000 litre herds was 6.4. There were some differences between the time below a nominal SARA threshold of 5.8 pH with grazing herds.

Graph showing pH v milk yield

The correlation of herd milk yield and rumen pH of sentinel cows is weak

The biggest surprise given their very well regulated feeding pattern was that 9500 litre cows on robotic systems were more at risk of SARA I suspect because the cows were substituting concentrate for forage which tells me that we need to reformulate the compounds and mixing of rations.

Bar chart showing mean pH and percentage time below 5.8 for differemnt husbandry systems

Mean pH differs little between systems but the percentage time that the rumen pH was below 5.8 was lower in grazing systems

For 30 years genetics have been held up by policymakers as the solution to all our problems, the magic bullet that will produce animals that are disease resistant and capable of sustained high yields. But better animals need better management and PLF is the key to unlock that potential. Most of the cows we have bred are capable of much higher yields than we achieve and it is up to us to develop the techniques to manage them in good health. Hopefully the new Agri Innovation Centres will get funded to be closer to industry and we can develop technologies with global potential and stop importing inanppropriate technology. Next year the EAAP comes to the UK in Belfast and we plan to have specialist sessions on all aspects of Precision Livestock Farming.