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Chitale Dairy Uses RFID to Improve Milk Yields
The system, developed at Bombay Veterinary College, combines RFID and cell-phone technologies to track data related to cow and water buffalo health in small farms.
May 21, 2010—After several years of testing a system that combines radio frequency identification and cell phones to record and track the health and nutrition of cows and water buffaloes on Indian farms, Chitale Dairy, in Bhilawadi, has significantly increased its animals' health and productivity. In fact, Chitale reports, since the dairy began utilizing the system, the animals' milk yields have increased and are now three to four times higher than the national average.
The reason for this increased yield, the systems' developers say, is that Chitale can now better manage the visits of the service providers it sends to those farms, as well as store a greater amount of resulting information about the visits and the services administered, or the observations made during those visits, such as vaccinations, calf delivery, medications or simply the volume of milk produced by a particular cow. The system was developed by researchers at Bombay Veterinary College. Because of that success, a company known as Infovet is now marketing the system's software to dairies throughout India and other parts of the world. Animal identification technology company Allflex India provides the tags and readers for this solution.
The software, known as Herdman, was designed to be used in conjunction with the animal RFID tags and cell phones' text messaging capability, in order to access information regarding the cows and buffaloes. Herdman was developed by Abdul Samad, Bombay Veterinary College's dean, and his colleagues. The goal was to make the collection of data regarding the animals' health more efficient and reliable.
According to Samad, the Indian dairy industry is complex, to say the least. Many small farmers contribute to the nation's milk production, which is one of the largest in the world. On average, he says, small farms have only three to five cows. To market their milk, farms can either join cooperatives—a collective group of farmers—or sell milk to private dairies. In either case, these dairy companies, or cooperatives, send service providers and veterinarians to each farm, to examine the cows, tend to their health, monitor milk yields and administer to newborn calves. These service providers and veterinarians write down details related to what they find (such as a particular animal's health status, vaccinations, medications, calving, drying-off, births, disease testing and calf weight) and take that information back to a central office, where the data is then input in to a computer.
That process, however, is slow and cumbersome, as errors can be made and the inputting of data can not take place until an individual returns to his office. Visits are often not made regularly, due to time constraints and a shortage of oversight of the service providers. As such, even when a service provider does make a visit, that visit and information recorded about it are difficult to verify. Some of the information, for instance, might be based solely on a farmer's recollections (such as when the cow last delivered a calf, or the amount of milk it produced)—and in some cases, the service provider might not have physically visited the site, but simply recorded information as if he had done so.
In addition, despite the fact that India produces a large percentage of the world's milk supply, its yield per animal is low compared with that of other nations. When investigating an automated solution, Samad says he had hoped to develop a system that would "improve buffalo herd health and productivity-enhancement protocols." To carry out this mission, researchers felt an automated system was needed to provide data not currently available about animal health and nutrition on small farms.
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