In the dairy farming industry, with its razor-thin margins, even small improvements that increase milk-per-cow yields can translate into important gains in feeding efficiency and profitability. Using artificial intelligence and computer vision in connected cloud-based networks, Cainthus is transforming how dairy farmers manage their herds, refine their processes, and optimize output.
Job One: Maximizing Animal Health and Comfort
As dairy farms continue to consolidate, labor shortages increase, and herd sizes grow, more farmers are looking for smarter and more efficient ways to apply technology to help optimize milk yields. Comfort is central to the health and well-being of dairy cows, and when cows are relaxed and demonstrate normal behavior, it directly leads to improved health and animal welfare, better milk production, and increased profitability. Though they may not have the ability to speak, cows give out clear and consistent signals that can alert farmers if intervention is needed.
According to Benoit Batard, Marketing Director for Cainthus, the two keys to improvement are resting time and the availability of feed. “The amount of lying-down time of high-yielding cows is crucial for maximizing milk production and their welfare,” he said. “For every additional hour of resting time, milk production increases by approximately 3.7 pounds. And even small incremental improvements in feed availability can yield another 5% increase in milk production, while also reducing waste and optimizing profitability. That’s why farmers want to closely monitor cow behavior and identify potential issues that arise.”
However, since larger dairy farms can have more than 1,000 cows scattered across multiple barns on dozens of acres, it’s not always feasible to keep a close eye on feeding operations, milking operations, and the many other factors that go into milk production. “Our customers want to keep tabs on what’s happening in their barns and pens. We created a solution that goes beyond tactical monitoring by providing trends and actionable insights that directly improve farm operations.”
Cameras in the Barns: A Networked Monitoring Solution
In response to these challenges, Cainthus created ALUS Nutrition and ALUS Behavior. These two comprehensive smart-camera systems monitor animal behavior and barn operations, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Using computer vision and artificial intelligence, smart cameras observe nutritional, behavioral, health and environmental activities that can impact production. The company’s proprietary AI algorithms automatically turn those visual inputs from cameras into real-time insights that farmers can access daily on any phone, tablet or computer.
For each ALUS deployment, Cainthus installs eight to 10 cameras in each barn, connected to a Digi IX cellular router and an ALUS “Barn Node” local server that provides local processing before that data gets shipped to a cloud server for further processing and analytics. Each day, the farmer can access a dashboard of analytics culled from the daily data captured in each barn.
According to Yazan Senan, Principal Site Reliability Engineer with Cainthus, managed connectivity from Digi industrial cellular routers
(IX series) and Digi Remote Manager®
(Digi RM) plays a critical role in the ALUS solution. Digi IX series routers provide cost-effective, trouble-free reliability in a rugged, durable housing. Digi Remote Manager (Digi RM), Digi’s cloud-based command center, facilitates easy setup, mass configuration, maintenance, and support for thousands of remote Digi devices. Digi RM empowers you to evaluate, update and configure your Digi enterprise products, while providing easy visibility into the health of your network.
“Digi IX cellular routers connect remote farms to our cloud platform by sending raw and processed edge data to our central server for further refinement and processing,” Senan explained. “They also route traffic to the devices in a private network inside each barn. We love that they’re rugged and reliable — we install them and they just work. And Digi supports OpenVPN, which our platform relies on.
“But, perhaps even more importantly, Digi RM also lets us manage all of those devices from our central location. We can do mass configurations and router updates without visiting customer sites — many of which are in very remote and widely distributed locations.”
Hourly Updates from Connected Cameras
Cainthus’s twin product offerings combine to optimize dairy operations. ALUS Nutrition tracks feed availability to ensure cows have continuous access to feed. The system monitors variability in feeding activities and enhances the consistency of farm operations, maximize the cows’ feed intake, and reduces waste while improving labor efficiency. ALUS Behavior monitors the herd 24/7 to provide a complete behavior analysis, ensuring that cows display the behavioral patterns that result in maximum milk production and animal welfare.
The solution enables farmers to increase resting time, improve cow comfort, and reduce costs due to lameness and related issues.
“Every morning, a farmer can access our dashboard from any connected device to see what’s happened in the previous 24 hours,” said Batard. “And we’re updating that information every hour throughout the day. We also send weekly summaries with numbers and trends and monthly analyses and recommendations for action.
“For instance, if we see that feed levels are lower on weekends, we might recommend looking at staffing and training to see if different workers approach tasks differently. We had one farm where lying time was dropping significantly. We investigated that situation and found that weekly pregnancy checks were taking longer than expected. After reviewing the protocol, the customer was able to add back 20 minutes of lying time — directly improving milk output. That kind of insight might have eluded them prior to ALUS.
“Between the rugged durability and reliability of Digi IX routers and the centralized manageability advantages that Digi Remote Manager gives us, we have the solid connectivity foundation that our application requires.”