Technology & data in dairy goat farming: post-event wrap up

Author: Kristine Piccart (ILVO) - June 22, 2017

This 4D4F event was the first in a series of yet to be planned sessions on the use of technology and data in goat farming. Flemish and Dutch goat farmers were brought together on June 2 to exchange their personal experiences, and gauge their needs for automation and data use. 

Stephanie Van Weyenberg (ILVO) started off the event with a brief description of the 4D4F project. The main goal of 4D4F is to enhance the use of dairy technology and data in practice, by bringing dairy farmers and other stakeholders (like advisors, veterinarians, researchers and technology providers) together and facilitating knowledge exchange throughout Europe. 4D4F approaches data in a broad sense, including all information collected manually, by external sources (such as lab results or advisory reports) or by sensor technology. The current 4D4F event was specifically aimed at goat farmers, since the dairy goat production is an emerging market in Europe.

Jef Aernouts (LACTIS) substantiated the latter during his presentation with some statistics. European goat farms are increasing in numbers and continuously growing larger, making it more difficult to organize labour and maintain oversight of the production. This explains the growing interest of goat farmers in so-called “smart solutions”. Jef Aernouts gave an overview of the existing sensor technologies in dairy goat production, currently in practice or under development. He discussed –amongst other things- the advantages (and disadvantages) of electronic ID-tags, in combination with other systems, such as selection gates, individual milk yield measurements and automatic feeding systems. Although goat farmers can still learn from dairy farmers and vice versa, there are notable differences between both industries. For one, while dairy cows are managed on an individual basis, dairy goats are handled on a group level. As one farmer stated: “We can’t just copy solutions from the dairy cattle industry.”

Wim Govaerts (Wim Govaerts & co) continued the meeting with an overview of the most important key performance indicators on production, cultivation and labour. As an agricultural advisor, he has noticed large deviations between farms. For instance, research has shown that the amount of labour required to produce 100 kg of milk ranges from 17 to 98 minutes. As Wim Govaerts specified, a lot of progress can be made through automation and so-called “rationalisation”.

The meeting ended with a survey of the goat farmers, to gauge their needs and interests for innovative technology and data.