Manufacturer says allowing animals to weigh themselves reduces their stress as well as farmers’ workloads and injury risk
Like the milking robot that revolutionized the dairy industry, a Swedish company is betting its new autonomous weigh scale will transform the beef sector.
Hencol, based in Grebbestad, Sweden, is targeting the global beef market with its unmanned weigh scale that provides continuous data.
“The dairy business is far ahead of the beef business due to the fact that they are totally data-driven today. You get a lot of information from your ongoing production in real time because you have so many milking robots,” said Johan Karlberg, chief executive officer of Hencol.
“That is exactly the same as we want to do with the cattle and beef industry, to give producers the possibility to make decisions based on real-time data.”
The company was formed 10 years ago by a group of engineers that saw that the beef sector was missing out on the benefits of digitalization.
“Production is not data-driven today. It’s driven mostly on post-production data,” Karlberg said.
“We are bringing auto decision (making) to an industry that is very manual. We want to bridge the gap between a manual weighing and automatic weighing.”
Having animals weigh themselves reduces their stress and also reduces farmers’ workloads and risk of injury. Constant weight tracking can also improve production.
In a typical Swedish stable barn with 350 animals, there can now be six to 12 autonomous weight readings per animal per day.
“That means our algorithms get a lot of data to work with because it’s very difficult to be able to capture real-time data,” he said.
Added Tobias Hesselby, a Swedish beef producer: “It is calm and nice and the animals enter the weigh station completely on their own. For example, a bull can be inside the weigh station 20 times a day. We have received 10,339 weight registrations in two months.”
Besides measuring weight, the algorithms calculate the number of days until the animal reaches its optimal target weight.
“In Sweden, for example, the tendency is that we keep the animals for way too long before we send them to slaughter. That means that the animal will not stop eating.
“So we say to the farmer, OK, this animal has reached its optimal target weight, so from now on you will only do a negative investment on this animal because it will continue eating, but it will not continue growing,” said Karlberg.
Knowing the target weight also allows slaughterhouses to be notified up to six months in advance.
“We want to be able to easily plan the slaughter well in advance and together have a good dialogue with the slaughterhouse so that they can plan when the animals are ready for slaughter,” said Hesselby.
“We also want to be able to offer the slaughterhouse a more accurate carcass weight if required compared to today’s range where we can deliver between 300 and 425 kilograms in carcass weight.”
Added Karlberg: “If we have full traction of our production, the normal Swedish farmer should be able to keep 15 percent more animals in production in a year due to the fact that they have much more control over the growth of the animals and that they send the animals (to slaughter) when they have reached their optimal target.”
Because the system looks at ongoing production, an Internet of Things platform was created that can use camera technology and other add-on sensors to capture and transfer data.
“Our system is functioning so that we can integrate any kind of sensor that you would like to measure other data points from. For example, we are doing projects with fodder efficiency. We create a data set where we add fodder into the weighing process of an animal, meaning we can start to measure the performance of a specific fodder,” said Karlberg.
Another aspect of the technology gives customers a decision-support system.
“This is done in the background by our big data analysis and the AI algorithms that makes it possible for us to give our customers an optimized system with support software,” said Karlberg.
The company plans to also provide users with Enterprise Resource Planning, which includes cloud-based software to better manage day to day business activities like cost of feed.
“You can look at how much your livestock is growing per day, for example, and then you know what you paid per kilogram for your meat,” he said.
The collected data will enable creation of a digitized value chain, which will move out from the farm to the abattoir to the consumer.
The system creates datasets from birth to slaughter that monitor variables that customers deem important such as climate, animal growth and medications.
The 350-kilogram solar-powered scale comes as a fixed unit that can be set up in the barn or field and is able to accommodate normal animal traffic.
Cattle step on the weigh scale on their way to eat and drink. Triggers or incentives like a brush or mineral stone are there to coax them onto the weigh station.
While the scale can fit an 800-kg animal, it has the ability to accurately determine whether another hoof or two lands on the scale at the same time.
“It’s not seldom that we get five legs on the scale, but our algorithms constantly watch for inaccurate data. We have so much data on this animal, so if the weights are really off we will cut that data because it’s not accurate,” Karlberg said.
“And maybe the animal has just been eating and drinking a lot. Imagine if we took a manual weight at that time. That would really differ from the actual weight of the animal or the normal weight of the animal.”
Because the unit is cloud-ready with an internal web server and RFID readers, updates can be remote.
There are about 30 units operating throughout Sweden, available on a rent-only basis, with a per-animal-per-month fee covering a 36-month subscription.
“The main reason why I don’t want to sell the equipment is because technology evolves really quickly,” said Karlberg.
“We don’t want to have a lot of old installations out in farms because we take full responsibility for it to work properly. So we want to have good installation software up and running.”