DENMARK - Research in technology and biology are providing new development opportunities for European livestock farming, delegates to the recent European Association of Animal Production (EAAP) conference heard in Copenhagen.
Around 950 scientists and consultants from 60 countries gathered for the EAAP 2014 European livestock congress in Copenhagen from 25 to 29 August.
During the four days of the congress, as many as 56 meetings and 750 lectures were held where a wide range of subject areas such as feeding, genetics, animal welfare, physiology, health and management were discussed.
The congress officially opened on Tuesday morning, where the Rector of Aarhus University, Brian Bech Nielsen welcomed the many scientists. In his opening speech, he highlighted the important contribution that livestock farming makes to the Danish economy and also some of the challenges associated with a large animal production.
The Director of the Danish Knowledge Centre for Agriculture, Jan Mousing, highlighted in his opening speech the influence that research has had on the development of the livestock sector. He furthermore stressed that both research and practical livestock farming are facing enormous challenges in meeting the growing demand for animal products in a sustainable way.
One of the challenges is by 2050 when the global population is estimated to have reached nine billion, the area being farmed will have shrunk significantly.
Global Issues Discussed
"In other words, there is a need to intensify production in a sustainable manner," said research director John E. Hermansen from Aarhus University, who was one of the principal organisers of the congress in Copenhagen.
One of the major themes of the congress is therefore the discussion of the role of livestock in food production in the future. The global demand for animal-based food products is increasing rapidly and this poses challenges in relation to impact on nature, the environment and climate.
Dr Hermansen added: "Research is facing a huge task in the provision of knowledge that can help ensure that increased livestock production does not add to the pollution pressure on the environment."
Livestock production has in fact already made progress in this area. A talk given by senior researcher Troels Kristensen from the Department of Agrobiology at Aarhus University disclosed, for example, that a Danish dairy cow now produces about three times as much milk as its predecessor in the 1950s – with a significantly lower feed consumption per kilo milk. Resource use efficiency has, in other words, increased significantly.
Never before, in the last hundred years, have there been so few cows in Danish farming. And never has milk production been higher.
Another possibility is to explore the possibilities of adapting livestock production to the local, natural conditions. For example, some soils are better suited to the production of animal fodder based on perennial crops than to the growing of cereals.
"More knowledge in such areas could increase the sustainability of livestock production," according to Dr Hermansen.
New Technology Improves Animal Welfare
As in other scientific congresses, researchers who participate in the EAAP Congress have the opportunity to present and discuss their research with colleagues from other countries.
The special feature of EAAP is that colleagues working in widely differing research disciplines have the opportunity to meet and advisors and companies are also welcome to attend meetings and present their own studies; it is often in the critical touch zone between research disciplines that new thinking emerges.
An example of this is "Precision livestock farming", which was a dominant theme at the congress in Copenhagen. Precision livestock farming includes the technological monitoring of farm animals, said Dr Hermansen.
This is becoming increasingly topical since farms and livestock herds are increasing in size. With a herd of several hundred cattle it will, for example, be extremely difficult for farmers to keep track of each individual animal.
Using technology that monitors the health of the cow, the farmer and his veterinarian will be notified of any problems. There are technologies that can continuously monitor the cow's temperature, how much she eats, how much she moves, whether she is coming into heat or whether she has become pregnant. Similar technology is available for alerting the farmer if a cow is going down with mastitis or a metabolic disorder.
Dr Hermansen explained: "When fully developed, the technology can provide early and accurate notifications if animals have problems. This means that the farmer and the veterinarian can intervene with preventive treatment, which can save the animals any unnecessary suffering and reduce the consumption of medicine."
Monitoring technologies are already widely used, such as in connection with milking robots, but now a host of new technologies are emerging that can be used in other production systems and with other livestock species.
Advancements in technology – and not least in their use – require collaboration between different research disciplines and also practical inputs. That is precisely what the EAAP Congress promotes.
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