Farm of the future

Farm of the future

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The world cannot function without farmers and the growing global population will only increase the demand for sustainably produced food. The future of the agricultural sector lies in innovation and the integration of technology into day-to-day operations. This is particularly true for pig and poultry houses, where smart sensors, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) can be applied to improve animal welfare and production, and increase efficiency.

Improving quality with the farm of the future

A farm of the future is fully automated with 24/7 operational integrated solutions. Many of the routine daily tasks are automated, leaving the farmer with more time to focus on the more important aspects of farm management. There are an increasing number of sensors that can measure various aspects of the animal’s living environment, such as temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and activity. These sensors can then be integrated with big data analytics, to provide insight into the health and welfare of the animals and the environment in which they live. As well as improving the health and welfare of the animals, technology can also be used to improve production efficiency. 

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Artificial Intelligence on the farm

Farmers require extra help in monitoring farm operations and concrete proposals for animal health and welfare improvements. Many of the latest techniques designed to automatically monitor animal related parameters have been developed for experimental research and still need to be modified into profitable products suitable for practical application. By combining the data collected by these sensors with AI, the system can be optimised to create the ideal conditions for the animals. The system can detect patterns and even draw conclusions. For example, with help from sensors and AI, the growth of animals can be monitored and analysed, enabling the optimal time for slaughter to be determined. Not only can this improve production, but a higher quality of meat can be produced too. AI can also be used to predict when an animal might become unwell, or when a problem could occur in the house environment. This enables preventive measures to be taken to prevent diseases and other problems. For example, if it is warm and the animals are inactive and drinking a lot, this indicates heat stress. The farmer is alerted to the need for intervention, and clear suggestions are also provided to ensure the correct adjustments can be applied. AI can also be used to optimise animal nutrition and water consumption, leading to reduced costs and feed waste. 

Drinking broilers
Climate sensors in a poultry house

Technology on the farm isn’t a new concept

When automating climate and feeding processes, it has been customary practice for years to apply advanced techniques designed to improve the process. An example of this technology is the specially developed airflow transmitter, which accurately directs the ventilation flow in a mechanically ventilated house. This method of measurement and control guarantees optimal thermal comfort for the animals with no temperature fluctuations or, even worse, draughts in the house. 

To satisfy the nutritional needs of the animals, automatic feeding systems are used that enable the size and composition of the feed rations to be portioned precisely and dispensed per feeding place according to the animals’ needs. Feed rations are dispensed precisely according to the settings in the feed curve, while the gradual transition from one feed type to another ensures better animal growth and less susceptibility to disease. Thanks to these techniques, the most important conditions for good animal welfare, such as hunger and thirst prevention and thermal comfort, can be satisfied.

Welfare indicators

So it is strange that when we actually assess animal welfare, we still rely on subjective and incidental methods such as periodic inspections in the house or even assessments afterwards in the slaughterhouse. Furthermore, the European member states are required by law to monitor welfare indicators, such as mortality and foot pad lesions in broilers. In the event of welfare problems, it is also a legal requirement to implement measures in order to improve conditions. Partly due to this, there is a growing demand for reliable and independent assessment of welfare indicators.

Monitoring the animal and its environment

But for accurate valuation of animal welfare it is crucial to measure on and around the animal as well as taking the environmental factors into account. Skin problems, body condition and abnormal behaviour supply a wealth of data about the well-being of an animal. In comparison to periodic inspections, automatic registration has many advantages. Firstly, automatic registration can take place continuously and in real time. In addition, this form of registration is more objective. Periodic physical inspections are time-consuming and because they can disrupt the daily routine in the house give a less reliable picture, which can lead to the actual situation being misinterpreted. Techniques can also be applied to register other parameters that are difficult for people to monitor, such as heart rate, sound and the presence of the stress hormone, plasma cortisol.

Automatic weighing of finishers

Additional research

Additional research is required in relation to high quality, affordable sensors and electronics, reliable control algorithms and user friendliness. Animal welfare must have priority in these developments. But then in this case, animal welfare as seen from the animal's perspective, independent to our beliefs and convictions of what welfare is.


What is animal welfare?

Animal welfare is important to European consumers: the quality of food is not only determined by the safety of the end product, consumers also demand safeguards about the welfare of the animals used to produce food. Within the European research programme Welfare Quality®, a group of scientists developed European standards for assessing the welfare of agricultural animals, as well as practical strategies for improving animal welfare. Objective parameters were defined within this research programme, to assess the degree of animal welfare:

  • Absence of prolonged hunger
  • Absence of prolonged thirst
  • Comfort around resting
  • Thermal comfort
  • Ease of movement
  • Absence of injuries
  • Absence of disease
  • Absence of pain induced by management procedures
  • Expression of social behaviours
  • Expression of other behaviours
  • Good human-animal relationship
  • Absence of general fear.

This approach ensures that animal related parameters are key to the assessment of animal welfare.

Sustainability measures and the farm of the future

Sustainability measures will also be incorporated into the farm of the future, such as reducing water and energy consumption, and minimising greenhouse gas emissions. Sensors can be used to monitor and optimise animal water and feed consumption, while the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy can reduce energy costs and CO2 emissions.


In conclusion, the farm of the future is an advanced system that combines smart sensors, big data analytics and AI to improve animal health and welfare, increase production and optimise efficiency. Not only can this lead to better results for the agricultural sector, it also contributes positively to sustainability objectives and animal welfare.

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