Big data: Crunching the numbers for a performance boost

Farm management systems are advancing rapidly, allowing farmers to measure and analyse all the variables that can give them the edge.

When used to its potential, capturing on-farm data supports poultry farmers in improving animal performance and boosting the efficiency of their business operations.

In May, a group of farmers travelled to the Netherlands to visit Hotraco Agri, which recently launched a new release of its Fortica system with controls for climate and feeding systems added, to learn about the future of farm data and see the systems being manufactured. The group was accompanied by a team from DraperVent, the UK distributor of Hotraco Agri systems.

The group of 12 farmers heard from Eric Helmink, director of Hotraco, about the increasing influence of ‘big data’ on agriculture.

‘Big data’ describes the capture and use of massive amounts of data. In agriculture this includes data on bird aggression at different times of day, average feed consumption in poultry houses, and at the retail end of the chain would include data on which days consumers are most likely to buy certain cuts of poultry.

More and more data is being collected on farm, and right through the supply chain from the feed mill to the shopping basket. In the future, technology will become better at analysing and making use of ‘big data’, allowing visibility of the whole chain and encouraging businesses to plan accordingly.

Big data potential

Data captured on farm will be compared, showing differences between different poultry houses in the same farm, and between different farms in the same area.

By capturing all this data on differences between poultry houses and uploading it to the cloud, it will allow farms to view trends and share best practice, eliminating inefficiencies.

Applying big data will allow full visibility from feed mill through to retailers. This will allow for better planning. If consumers start demanding specific poultry products, this information can easily be shared throughout the supply chain. “It’s a powerful tool for the total industry,” he says.

As more consumers around the world live in cities and are less connected to agriculture, transparency through the supply chain and understanding what they want becomes ever more important. Helmink cites how pressure from NGOs can quickly translate into a shift in public opinion.

In 2016 this played out dramatically in the Netherlands when retailers suddenly started publicising stocking density on retail packs of poultry meat. Lower stocking density products quickly became highly desirable and ‘almost overnight’ it became “very rare to see standard chicken” on supermarket shelves.

Retailers loved it, says Helmink, because they were able to make 30% more margin on chicken. The industry was able to cope with the change because the Netherlands exports huge volumes of food and produces three times the amount of chicken it consumes. In other countries it would not be so easy should a similar change occur.

Although its not always possible to see changes like this coming, making use of big data will in future allow the industry to react swiftly in the event of such incidences.

New climate and ventilation solutions

The farmers were given a tour of Hotraco’s production facilities in the city of Horst and were talked through new features, that have been added to the Novus Farm Management software to improve animal performance management and improve ease of use for poultry farmers.

A new feature on the Fortico system is the completely integrated control for air inlet units. This new ventilation control ensures equal air distribution in the house based on negative pressure, positive pressure, or equal pressure. This control makes it possible to control up to eight components, namely: damper, intake fan, cassette intake unit, bypass flap, side inlet flaps, front inlet flaps, and two universal air inlets.

Also new is the real feel temperature determination for broilers, which is based on the measured room temperature, air speed, and humidity. This real feel temperature determination is important for poultry houses that are ventilated with tunnel ventilation. Improvements have been made to the heat exchanger control, including the addition of a minimum curve so it can be kept running even after the desired house temperature has been reached. This reduces the particulate emissions and makes the installation compliant with the EU Particulate Matter Directive. In order to properly regulate the minimum extraction of heat exchangers with an ever-increasing capacity, a damper is used. The tunnel ventilation control and the transition between ventilation modes have also been improved and expanded.

New feed control for layers

Although broiler farmers have for some time embraced data management systems, the laying industry has been slower to embrace the benefits of technology.

This is a gap which suppliers are keen to fill, especially given the pressure on the laying sector caused by poor returns and oversupply issues.

The group heard how improvements to the technology means it is now possible to control the feed chains or feed pans in six groups using the Fortica system. This system is particularly helpful for sending the animals to the right floor and getting them back into the systems on time, especially in free-range and aviary barns. In this way the system helps poultry farmers train their animals and maximize their performance.

In order to determine the average animal weight even more accurately, it is also now possible to enter a correction factor for animal behaviour during animal weighing. The poultry farmer can adjust the animal behaviour parameter based on the age of the animals.

To better monitor the performance of broilers and layers, a separate Performance section has been added to the system. It means farmers can get an overview of all the current and key data for the animals, such as livability, age, current animal weight or egg weight, and feed conversion.

Also new is the 7-day trend chart. This allows the poultry farmer to look back 7 days for each management category and compare the data with today’s current data, such as animal weight, feed consumption, water consumption, and laying percentage. The data is clearly presented in a graph, giving the poultry farmer an at-a-glance summary of the most important developments in the poultry house.

New items have also been added to egg management, and the flock data now also includes: arrival weight, date of birth, age at start of production, and calculated production date.

Farm Management software

Hotraco Agri has continued to develop the Novus Farm Management software since it was introduced in October 2018, adding new features and functionalities. This management software presents important information quickly and clearly so the poultry farmer can efficiently manage for improvements and respond to any abrupt changes directly and adequately.

This means it is now possible to easily compare flocks. This allows the poultry farmer to compare all the management data of two active flocks from different houses or compare the current flock with the previous flock from the same house.


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