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21 Jun 2022

Advanced AI increases dairy herd feed efficiency

Thanks to state-of-the-art 3D cameras and 24/7 feed surveillance, cow management has the potential to be transformed.


More climate-friendly cows

Feed impacts the environment, animal welfare and dairy business bottom lines. Dairy farm owners require tools to pinpoint the most efficient cows to ensure resilience, productiveness and climate friendliness.

Some cows are superior at turning feed into meat and milk. Others are less efficient and use too much feed for maintenance.

Cows spend 6% energy-producing methane rather than milk on average but can be anywhere between 2-12% depending on the cow’s feed-to-milk efficiency. A focus on carbon footprint and sustainability is therefore essential.

VikingGenetics invests heavily in reducing cattle breeding’s carbon footprint.

“Replacing average European cows with ones from VikingGenetics saves 0.1 kg CO2 per kg milk. The savings are much bigger on other continents at approximately 0.33 kg CO2 per kg milk, equating to roughly 0.74 million tonnes CO2 per year”, says Chief Sales and Marketing Officer David Stenkær Ravnkilde.

“Being part of the solution makes sense. We must contribute our knowledge to this important effort. Indian dairy farmers, for example, can reduce methane emissions by as much as 33% per liter milk using our genetics”, he adds.


Feed-efficient cows = savings

  • Nordic research shows a €200 saving on cows per year when looking at the most efficient versus the least efficient cows.
  • The effect of our initiatives over the next ten years is the equivalent of removing 50,000 diesel cars in Denmark.
CFIT VikingRed
There’s growing interest in how dairy farmers produce milk. CFIT technology and Saved Feed Index help our dairy products have a greener profile.

Anders Levring,
VikingGenetics Board Member

Real-time feed intake data

The Saved Feed Index is based on Cattle Feed Intake System (CFIT) data. This advanced system uses 3D cameras to monitor and measure feed intake in a cow’s natural environment during lactation.

We focus on feed intake over their lifetime and compare it to other breeds and herds. We initiated the project in 2015, and data has routinely been collected since 2018.

Currently, the CFIT system is installed across 20 herds, which collects data from 7,000 cows, including VikingHolsteins, VikingJerseys and VikingReds.


Data throughout lactation

A cow’s physiology changes dramatically through lactation. In early lactation, the cow goes from producing no milk to often a very high milk yield. This is a very unstable period for the cow. In mid and late lactation, the cow is used to the high milk production and also the corresponding feed intake. This change also influences breeding value estimation.

To create a reliable Saved Feed Index, we must ensure data is available throughout lactation. The data we get from CFIT farms provides information throughout the lactation period.

Previous studies show feed intake in early, middle and late lactation is not the same trait. Only having data from mid-lactation means we experience a situation where feed efficiency is harmed — not improved.

CFIT VikingHolstein Future-friendly farming

Optimise feed costs

Is it possible to breed more efficient and climate-friendly cows and improve farm returns? The answer is YES. 

With the Saved Feed Index, you can find out which bulls will bring you the best-performing cows. Cows that are more feed-efficient and climate-friendly.

Breeding for improved efficiency is a win-win situation. Higher production occurs when we select the most efficient animals. There are no negative consequences on health, reproduction and longevity traits.

Jan Lassen,
Senior project manager at VikingGenetics

How does CFIT work?

CFIT uses 3D cameras and artificial intelligence to identify the cows, estimate their weight, quantify how much they eat and recognise their colour patterns and body shape.

The cameras also take photos of the feed’s surface to analyse consumption during the day — one shot before the cow goes to the feeding table and one after it leaves. We then quantify the cow’s feed 24/7, all year round, by subtracting the two images.

CFIT technology is a sophisticated and complex system. Aligning all the data at the right time is not a simple task.

“Making a system that works 24 hours a day, seven days a week is complicated and unique. It was very time-consuming”, says VikingGenetics Senior Project Manager Jan Lassen.


Transforming dairy cow management

Besides being an effective data collection tool for improved feed efficiency through breeding, we can develop CFIT as a powerful future management tool for cow behaviour, feeding and health.

Other measurable traits using constant 3D camera surveillance include:

  • Lameness prevention
  • Social hierarchy
  • Eating behaviour

A body condition scoring system is also possible. It can notify the farmer when a cow deviates from the ideal body condition at any stage of lactation. This data can provide insights for farmers to make day-to-day decisions.

VikingGenetics Board Member Anders Levring sees great potential in developing CFIT technology as a practical breeding and management tool. This data allows farmers to compare herd performance with other herds in the system.

Learn more about the Saved feed index
CFIT cameras