Breeding for improved feed efficiency can lead to lower feed costs and a smaller ecological footprint of dairy farming, because efficient cows also have lower methane emissions and require less feed per kilogram of milk.
Feed costs are approximately 50% of the total costs on a dairy farm. Efficient cows
need relatively less feed for the same milk production. To determine feed efficiency, it is necessary to know how much feed a cow has eaten in relation to its production. This can be done, for example, with RIC containers (Roughage Intake Control). With this, the feed is weighed and a cow that comes to eat is registered. Innovation center Dairy Campus has 64 RIC containers in use in the feeding stable. RIC buckets are
relatively expensive and few cows can be measured at a time, making it hardly
applied on commercial dairies. It is therefore important that an alternative is found to determine feed efficiency. Another method must be fast, easy and cheap and it is important that data is collected from many animals.
An example of a potential method is infrared thermography. This method is non-invasive and can collect data from many cows quickly and relatively cheaply. Infrared cameras are already being used to detect diseases in dairy cattle early and to estimate the feed efficiency of beef cattle. The relationship between the infrared images and feed efficiency in dairy cattle is less known.
At Breed4Food and in collaboration with CRV, we are investigating whether infrared
thermography could be used as an indication of the feed efficiency of dairy
cows. We would like to answer the following questions:
1. What is the definition of the infrared feature? In other words, which body part
can we measure best? And, what exactly are we going to measure against that?
2. What is the correlation between the infrared trait and feed efficiency?
To answer these questions, the feed intake and milk production data of the cows in the feeding shed is used and an infrared camera films during milking.
These measurements were taken at Dairy Campus in September
Infrared radiation is radiation outside the visible spectrum. It has a shorter wavelength than red light, which people can see with the naked eye. All bodies give off infrared radiation. We can feel that as warmth. The wavelength of infrared is related to temperature. An infrared camera measures this radiation and makes an image of it. With the help of this camera, insight is gained into the temperature of the objects in front of the camera, in this case cows.