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We innovate animal farming

Social and political demands, a challenging market environment, rising environmental standards and the desire for more animal welfare are placing new demands on future-oriented animal farming worldwide.

Modern animal farming technology, with its high capacity for innovation, provides important answers and impulses. Its innovations are not only problem solvers for current challenges, but also drivers for a sustainable and yet growth-oriented economy.

The exhibitors at EuroTier 2024 will show in a variety of ways which new, innovative approaches and strategies can be used to improve the efficiency, sustainability and ethical standards of animal farming.

Barn technology

We innovate animal farming - true to this motto, three companies from the barn construction industry are continuously developing to meet current political and social demands for greater animal welfare and sustainability.

Big Dutchman International, Lely Deutschland and Schauer Agrotronic explain how they are making their barns energy-efficient, driving forward automation and promoting animal welfare with the help of AI. Also in the interview: Tim Poppe from Agrarprodukte Kitzen e. G., who have been running the dairy barn on 100% self-generated electricity since the beginning of January 2024.

Big Dutchman

Animal welfare in poultry farming necessitates a holistic management concept

Daniel Holling, Head of Business Development at Big Dutchman

3 QUESTIONS – 3 ANSWERS

Big Dutchman stands for technical innovations in egg production and poultry fattening. Daniel Holling, Head of Business Development at Big Dutchman International, explains how animal welfare can be improved in poultry farming and what artificial intelligence is already capable of achieving in poultry houses.

Which major challenges do you see yourself confronted with as a poultry house manufacturer?

Farmers, and therefore also Big Dutchman as a poultry house outfitter, find themselves caught between the conflicting priorities of animal welfare, sustainability, reducing CO2 and the issue of affordable solutions to meet the requirements of politicians and society in Germany and parts of Europe. Looking beyond that at the international market, the competitive pressure on us as a company is particularly high in view of the great breadth of completely different framework conditions and requirements. It isn’t easy to come up with the best offer for every region, every order of magnitude and every production level at the right point in time. Especially because competitors from Asia, particularly China, are constantly stepping up the pressure around the globe.

Which technical solutions are you offering to meet demands for increased animal welfare in poultry farming?

Technical solutions can help to improve husbandry conditions for poultry, but individual measures aren’t enough when it comes to increased animal welfare. Animal welfare in poultry farming necessitates a holistic management concept that is aimed at protecting and fostering the animals’ well-being. This is why our improvements are always focused on climate and environmental control, automation and health monitoring as well as feeding and husbandry methods as a whole in order to continuously improve the standards for animal welfare. In this context, the innovations that we will be presenting at EuroTier have particularly been focused on new, holistic husbandry systems as well as on advancements in hygiene and supply air filtration.

Let’s turn to the topic of artificial intelligence: how can AI be used in poultry houses and what benefits does this technology offer?

Big Dutchman has been systematically evolving digital technologies for sensors, control systems and farm management in close dialogue with customers for over 40 years. BFN Fusion now brings the current BigFarmNet and amacs systems together in the cloud. This enables the use of assistance systems that automatically monitor, compare, analyse and warn with the aid of artificial intelligence. In this way, the animals’ health and productivity are improved and profitability is boosted. Examples of this include slaughter weight forecasts or the early indication of emerging problems in production, which are otherwise quickly overlooked in day-to-day business. AI is already being used to support our self-learning, energy-optimised climate management system, too. Increasing precision leads to increased animal welfare while simultaneously saving energy thanks to economical ventilation principles.

The development of AI applications has significantly picked up pace in numerous areas of our lives, but this exciting trend is still pretty much in its infancy in the agricultural industry when it comes to practical, automated optimisation. However, it will offer a vast number of opportunities in the future.

Lely Deutschland

Robotics is the logical approach to increased energy efficiency

Gregor Beckmann, Managing Director at Lely Deutschland

3 QUESTIONS – 3 ANSWERS

Lely is a pioneer in energy efficiency and automation in cattle farming. Gregor Beckmann, Managing Director of Lely Deutschland, talks about the current state of affairs in these areas and explains the company’s concept for increased animal welfare.

What other progress will we be seeing in automating dairy cattle barns?

Progress cannot be stopped, not even in automation. Today, the majority of work routines can already be supported with automation, but it has to be emphasised that so far, the push to automate hasn’t come so much from the farming community. Instead, it’s a question of acceptance. Take the example of automatic milking: well over 90 percent of new investments in this area are aimed at milking robots.

The situation in automatic feeding is completely different. It only has a low acceptance rate in the double digits, although it can lead to enormous cost savings and increased feeding efficiency. The situation is exactly the same in automatic barn floor cleaning. Many farmers are still relying on simple mechanisation in the form of folding dung scrapers, although robotics is vastly more economical and more favourable for animal welfare.

Of course, Lely is remaining true to its role as a leading innovator in the fairy farming industry. Current examples include the autonomous mowing and feeding robot Lely Exos or Lely Sphere, our manure processing system in keeping with the circular economy.

Which barn construction measures and new technology can be used to further improve animal welfare in dairy farming?

Irrespective of modern animal welfare barn concepts, technology has to support the animal. Animal welfare is concerned more with the corresponding mind set than the issue of new technology. Lely is an absolute and resolute proponent of free cow movement and the concept of ‘management by exception’. In practical terms, this means that cows only need humans in exceptional cases.

Technology has to enable humans to remain away from the cows. Our Lely farm concept has been consistently developed to achieve this, but farmers need to be willing to change. The overwhelming success of our products confirms our clear position. Our approach equates to more space for the cows, less hectic animal movements and minimum spatial requirements for working on the animals. In practice, this makes an enormous contribution to animal welfare and to cost efficiency in barn construction.

What innovations can you offer dairy farmers to improve energy efficiency in barns and therefore also increase their farms’ competitiveness?

Robotics is per se an energy-efficient technology. But it’s also true that we implement maximum technical progress in our machines. Our milking robot is absolutely top-class in terms of energy and water consumption. The latest generation of robots requires 35 percent less electricity than the preceding one, which itself consumed 20 percent less than the model before that. And on the journey goes. The situation concerning water consumption and therefore also cleaning agent consumption is similar. We have halved water consumption over the last three generations of robots.

It’s no different when we replace diesel vehicles such as feed mixer wagons, for instance. Our automatic feeding robot Lely Vector outputs 25 percent less CO2 equivalent than a tractor-hauled feed mixer wagon. Added to this is the fact that our electrically-/battery-powered robots are ideally able to use green energy, optimally energy that has been generated on the farm. Robotics is therefore the logical approach to increased energy efficiency.

Agrarprodukte Kitzen e.G.

We considered the option of generating our electricity ourselves and also of consuming all of it ourselves

Tim Poppe, Agrarprodukte Kitzen e.G.

3 QUESTIONS – 3 ANSWERS

The farm on which Tim Poppe works has been operating the dairy barn entirely using self-generated electricity since the beginning of January 2024. The Saxon farmer explains how this came about and which initial experiences were gained. 

Your farm is proof positive that even large dairy farms can be energy self-sufficient. Can you please describe your farm briefly?

Agrarprodukte Kitzen e. G. is a mixed farm consisting of two cooperatives that operates to the south of Leipzig. We manage 3,200 hectares of arable land, have 800 dairy cows, a pig breeding farm for 570 breeding sows and a pig fattening facility with 2,160 fattening places.

In energy terms, we have had a 500-kilowatt biogas plant in place since 2011, flexibilised to 1.2 megawatts. Throughout the company group, we have fitted photovoltaic systems with a peak output of 8,500 kilowatts on our roof surfaces. A small 75-kilowatt slurry biogas plant has been in operation since 2020 in Leipzig-Großzschocher. Upgrading it and increasing its output by 100 kilowatts as well as installing a 600-kilowatt electricity storage system enabled the self-sufficient supply of our ‘glass cow barn’ in 2024.

How did you arrive at the idea of generating all of the electricity for your barn yourself and what technical means do you use to achieve it?

Thanks to our business partners in the photovoltaics sector, we have constantly expanded our horizons regarding the options for generating electricity and, since 2022, also for storing it. It should be pointed out that we have sufficient slurry for at least 150 kilowatts of electricity in Großzschocher, but were previously unable to use it profitably due to statutory limits.

Inverters that can form a ‘power grid’ themselves, i.e. which are black start- and island-capable, have recently come onto the market. In combination with the electricity storage system to compensate for output peaks, our 100-kilowatt combined heat and power plant generates around 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity from biogas. We therefore considered the option of generating our electricity ourselves and also of consuming all of it ourselves. In our opinion, this is the only real method for using sustainably generated electricity in a way that relieves pressure on the grid.

What have your initial experiences been?

We switched the dairy facility to autonomous power supply on 11 January 2024. The inverter and the storage system functioned very well from the word go, as did our automatic control system for the combined heat and power plant.

By evaluating the output data, we now know that we have to compensate for output fluctuations of between 50 and 140 kilowatts throughout the day. This isn’t a problem for the inverter, particularly since the combined heat and power plant operates at 100 kilowatts, i.e. fluctuations of only 50 kilowatts then occur. The computer technology of the milking robots hasn’t experienced any problems so far either, whereby it is important to keep to the frequency of 50 hertz in this case.

Problems arose with the biology of the biogas plant after two weeks of operation. This was triggered by the temperature, which we were unable to maintain with the existing fermenter heating system. After two weeks, we therefore switched the dairy facility back to the public grid and fired up the biogas plant again. Autonomous operation was resumed on 27 February 2024 and has been running without any disruptions since then.

Schauer Agrotronic

NatureLine is a low-emission animal welfare barn for fattening pigs that follows a completely new technical approach in terms of animal farming and emissions

Karl-Heinz Denk, Marketing and Sales Manager at Schauer Agrotronic

3 QUESTIONS – 3 ANSWERS

In the form of NatureLine, Schauer Agrotronic is offering a low-emission animal welfare barn for pig farming. Head of Sales and Marketing Karl-Heinz Denk describes the barn concept and explains its advantages.

What solutions are you offering in terms of increased animal welfare and improved animal health in pig farming?

In the form of NatureLine, Schauer Agrotronic is offering a low-emission animal welfare barn for fattening pigs that follows a new technical approach in terms of animal farming and emissions. It offers functional separation into lying, feeding and toilet areas, a littered, variable lying area, supply air cooling, manipulation material and long-trough dry feeding. Taken together, all of these measures are clearly aimed at implementing ‘fattening pig production with an intact tail’.

Indoor animal welfare is also ensured by our pig rearing barns, which additionally offer a structured pen and a lying area with a solid surface. We offer various farrowing pens for pig production. One of these is the WelCon bio free farrowing pen, which reduces piglet crushing losses and the amount of work required to keep the pen clean. Due to safety reasons, the sow can also be temporarily locked in the feeding area. With the BeFree farrowing pen, we have implemented a solution that currently complies with all of the statutory requirements corresponding to the latest stage of discussion, including a two-metre turning circle for the sow and a separate piglet nest area measuring 1.5 square metres, and all of this in a total pen area covering just 6.75 square metres. Our range is completed with the WingFree free farrowing pen, which offers piglets optimum protection during the farrowing phase and the first few days of their lives.

Which innovations can be used to improve the energy efficiency of existing rearing and fattening barns?

We can demonstrate the environmental impacts of our barns with comprehensive data. Our ‘NatureLine low-emission animal welfare barn’ for fattening pigs was extensively analysed as part of the Austrian SaLu_T (clean air in animal production) project as an emission-reducing barn form for fattening pig farming. This analysis was based on Josef and Christina Neuhold’s animal welfare barn for 850 fattening pigs in St. Veith in Styria.

Unlike conventional barns, for instance, the analysed barn does not require any exhaust air fans. With the exception of supplying cooled outside air via a horizontal ventilation duct in the centre of the aisle in the interior, ventilation and aeration take place via natural convection. The supply air is cooled by means of cool pads. The result is sensational and surpasses all of our expectations. The fully mechanised barn, including feeding, littering system and supply air cooling, reduces energy requirements by 80 percent!

Sustainability and emission reduction are important topics in pig farming. How are you tackling them with your innovative NatureLine barn concept?

Again, the Neuhold family’s SaLu_T reference barn is a flagship facility in every regard in this case. Above all, the consistent regional purchasing of feeds and regional marketing of the pigs enabled a carbon footprint of just 2.4 kilogrammes of CO2 per kilogramme of live weight to be determined for the production of the living fattening pigs.

The barn is functionally divided into three pens: the interior of the barn as a resting area, the outdoor area with solid floor as an activity area and for feed consumption and the outer slatted area as a toilet area. The significant reductions in emissions compared to conventional barn technology with a fully slatted floor, single-phase feeding and an enclosed barn are essentially attributable to the following emission-reducing measures in the barn and feeding technology: multi-phase feeding, outdoor climate or open-front barn, minimisation of the faeces areas and faeces/urine separation.

The NatureLine animal welfare barn concept that was exhaustively analysed in detail in the SaLu_T project reduced ammonia emissions by 72 percent. Odour was reduced by up to 95 percent and dust by up to 80 percent. This means that no additional air scrubber is necessary.