Smart Calf System – Innovative technology for more animal welfare

Published on Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:16am

 Smart Calf System – Innovative technology for more animal welfare

 Creating appropriate housing conditions, controlling their effects, documenting them and making them understandable to the farmers are important tasks in the future management of livestock herds. This also refers to a good calf management.  
The automatic calf feeders from Förster-Technik have always provided a lot of information about crucial health parameters, such as feed consumption, drinking speed, thus giving valuable details on the well-being of the calves. With the new Smart Calf System awarded with the Gold Medal of the German Agricultural Society for its highly innovative character, new sensors and development parameters are now utilized to estimate the health status and development of the calf. As a result, diseases can be detected earlier and the necessary treatments can be performed in time. That means fewer treatments are required and the farmer saves a considerable amount of money and time. At the same time, many practical enhancements are introduced, such as the fully automatic cleaning of the milk lines and the suction hoses as well as the swiveling feeding station.
The two main components of this system are the Smart Activity Box and the Smart Neckband.

The Activity Box is equipped with a nipple moving on two axes. This enables the calf to perform its natural udder bumping behavior. An integrated activity sensor measures the udder bumps. A new parameter is thus recorded that supports the early detection of disorders of well-being (stress) and increased disease risks.
Studies have shown that this behavior is closely related to emerging diseases. The system signals an increased risk about 2-3 days before a visible finding. Activity on the nipple is also a parameter that supports the objective assessment of animal welfare. It is expected that evidence can be deduced in connection with the animal activity and drinking data. The necessary algorithms are currently under development.
Beside the activity parameters, the Activity Box has other important features. The Auto-Learn-Function supports the training of young calves after they have been transferred to the group. When playing with the nipple, calves that have only been in the group for a few days, are given a small amount of milk. Without a worker having to take care of it, the calves quickly learn how to use the feeding station.
New is also the fully automatic circuit cleaning of the suction hoses, which can be carried out up to 4 times per day.

The Smart Neckband is a collar with an activity sensor and an LED signal light. By measuring the activity, conclusions can be drawn about the development and the health status of the calf.  
The operator receives corresponding alarm or/and warning messages on an external device such as a PC, tablet or smartphone. Since the system is browser-based, it does not matter which hardware or operating system is used.
The signal light is controlled via the CalfCloud. Animals can be displayed individually or in groups, such as alarm animals, animals with drinking rights, animals with an increased risk of disease, etc. When activated, the light on the collar flashes clearly and visibly. In principle, it is possible to encode further information by color or flashing frequency of the light. An essential advantage is the possibility to look for and observe animals without having to go into the group. This makes it easier to assess the calf’s state of health without spreading unnecessary stress in the group. In addition, the light has a magnetic switch to confirm activity directly on the animal. This helps, for example, when training or treating individual calves.
In work management, the system offers advantages in multi-level communication. For example, veterinarians, herd managers or other persons can define measures to be taken on the calves (e.g. measuring fever). The barn personnel can then have the animals shown to them quickly and easily and then confirm that they have taken care of them directly at the animal. In the future, it will also be possible to automatically save related data. This results in complete and error-free documentation while reducing the amount of work involved.

The Smart Calf System has a modular structure. This means that the individual components can be combined according to the respective operational requirements.
In future, the values of the connected components shall be converted into a standardized index. With the currently developed algorithm, any number of measured values can be evaluated individually. This results in indications for prophylactic measures, veterinary treatment of individual animals and feeding and drinking depending on the health and development status of each individual animal.  
The new generation of the smart calf feeders offers the coupling to the internet. This enables farmers to prepare the data as well as possible and make the information available in a way that is easy to use.
The drinking intake data (quantity, drinking speed, visits, etc.) are merged with those of the Smart Calf System via a cloud application. In principle, early warning systems, graphical representations of parameters and aggregated information as well as recommendations for action can be derived from this. The system can be used at any location and by different people via the Internet connection. This offers a wide range of possibilities for organizing and controlling work. As a result, workflows can be better adapted to operational requirements and made more flexible.

The Smart Calf System has been introduced to the German market beginning of 2018. It will be available in North America by the end of 2018.
For any questions about this system, please contact Jan Ziemerink, cell: 519-239-9756