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EuroTier 2024 innovations: Automation and animal welfare for animal housing of the future

EuroTier 2024: 12-15 November 2024 in Hanover, Germany – Guiding theme of this year’s trade fair: “We innovate animal farming” – Three companies from the animal housing construction sector on how to promote energy savings in animal housing – New housing concepts, AI and robots play an important role – Improved energy efficiency and reduced emissions -“We innovate animal farming“ – this is the guiding theme of this year’s EuroTier trade fair, which takes place from 12 to 15 November at the exhibition grounds in Hanover, Germany. The trade fair is organized by the DLG (German Agricultural Society), which also organizes the professional program for the event. The innovation exhibition platform for the global livestock sector offers its visitors an international technical program on the latest developments in cattle, pig and poultry farming. Three companies from the livestock housing sector report on the challenges they are facing today and how the latest technologies – such as AI and robotics – and new housing concepts are making a contribution to improving animal welfare and energy efficiency while reducing emissions. What’s more, a farm in Saxony, Germany, is breaking new ground and running its dairy housing entirely on self-generated electricity.

 We innovate animal farming – true to this guiding theme, three companies from the livestock sector continue to develop solutions in order to meet current political and social demands for greater animal welfare and sustainability. Big Dutchman International, Lely Deutschland and Schauer Agrotronic are three companies with different areas of expertise. What they have in common is their continued quest to develop innovations for animal husbandry. Agrarprodukte Kitzen e. G, a cooperative farm located in Saxony, is this year breaking new ground by starting to run its dairy housing entirely on self-generated electricity.

Improved animal welfare through artificial intelligence

Daniel Holling, Head of Business Development at Big Dutchman International, sees farmers and animal housing companies caught between animal welfare, sustainability, CO2 reduction and affordable solutions driven by political demands in Germany and parts of Europe. In addition, competitive pressure from Asia, especially China is felt. However, individual measures are not enough to satisfy the demands for increased animal welfare in poultry farming, according to Holling. “Animal welfare in poultry farming requires a holistic management concept. In order to raise animal welfare standards, we focus on improving numerous factors, including climate and environmental control, automation and health monitoring as well as feeding and husbandry management methods,” explains Holling.

Holling sees the use of AI (artificial intelligence) in poultry houses as another key factor. For more than 40 years, Big Dutchman has been systematically developing digital technologies for sensors, control and farm management in close liaison with customers. “With BFN Fusion, the current BigFarmNet and AMACS systems have now been merged in the cloud. This means that assistance systems based on artificial intelligence can now be used to automatically monitor, compare, analyze and provide necessary warnings. This improves the health and productivity of the animals while increasing profitability,” says Holling. “Even our self-learning, energy-optimized climate management is already supported by AI.” This enhances animal welfare and saves energy through economical ventilation principles.

Saving costs and increasing energy efficiency with robotics

Gregor Beckmann, Managing Director of Lely Germany, also sees a promising future in automation. However, the acceptance of these systems varies depending on the area of activity. While well over 90 percent of new investments are made in milking robots, the acceptance rate for automatic feeding is still in the low double-digit range. “The same applies to automatic barn floor cleaning. Many still rely on simple mechanization using folding scrapers, even though robot solutions are more economical and works more favorably for animal welfare,” says Beckmann. Regardless of modern animal welfare housing concepts, technology must support the animal while reducing the need for human contact with the cow. Lely is a consistent advocate of free movement and the concept of “management by exception”, in which the cow only needs the presence of humans when absolutely necessary.

“Our approach means more space for the cows, resulting in calmer movements and minimized space requirements for working around the animals. In fact, this is an enormous contribution to animal welfare and cost efficiency in animal housing construction,” explains Beckmann. The use of robotics can also contribute to making farming operations more energy-efficient. “Our milking robots are among the absolute best in terms of energy and water consumption. The latest generation of robots consumes 35 percent less electricity than its predecessor, which itself consumed 20 percent less than the previous model,” adds Beckmann. Robotics is therefore the logical path to greater energy efficiency.

Rethinking animal housing construction concepts and reducing CO2 footprint using regional feedstuffs

Schauer Agrotronic’s finishing pig housings are also energy-efficient. This is achieved through a clever construction concept that significantly reduces emissions. The “NatureLine” animal welfare housing offers functional separation in the lying, feeding and manure removal areas.  With a variable lying area supplied with straw, long trough dry feeding and cooling, the housing system also offers enrichment material to keep the pigs occupied. The piglet rearing pens also have a structured pen and a lying area with a fixed surface, explains Karl-Heinz Denk, Marketing and Sales Manager, Schauer Agrotronic.

“We are able to prove the environmental impact of our pen with extensive data,” says Denk. The NatureLine finishing pig pen underwent analysis as part of the Austrian project “SaLu_T – Clean Air in Animal Husbandry” – as a pen that reduces emissions. Compared to conventional housing, this pen does not require exhaust fans. With the exception of the supply of cooled outside air via a horizontal ventilation shaft in the center of the aisle in the indoor area, ventilation and extraction is achieved via natural convection. The supply air is cooled using proprietary “Cool Pads”. “The result is sensational and exceeds all expectations. The fully mechanized pen, including feeding, bedding system and supply air cooling, reduces energy requirements by 80 percent,” says Denk.

Additionally, a CO2 footprint of just 2.4 kilograms per CO2 per kilogram of live weight was determined for the production of finishing pigs in the pen through consistent regional procurement of feed and regional marketing of the pigs. According to Denk, the massive reductions in emissions compared to conventional pen technology with a fully slatted floor, single-phase feeding and a closed pen are mainly due to emission-reducing measures in the pen and feeding technology: Multiphase feeding, outdoor climate or open-front stalls, minimization of manure areas and manure-urine separation.

Dairy housing fully powered by self-generated electricity

Farmer Tim Poppe’s farm provides a practical example of what energy efficiency can look like in a running business. Agrarprodukte Kitzen e. G. is a mixed farm that consists of two cooperatives and operates south of Leipzig, Germany. Since the beginning of January 2024, the dairy housing has been run entirely on self-generated electricity.”Energywise, we have had a 500-kilowatt biogas plant since 2011, made flexible to 1.2 megawatts. Within the group of companies, we have covered our roof areas with photovoltaic systems which have a peak output of 8,500 kilowatts,” explains Poppe. In Leipzig-Großzschocher, an area close to the farm, a 75-kilowatt small-scale slurry biogas plant in operation since 2020, has this year led to a self-sufficient supply for the company’s own “glass cowshed” thanks to the addition and increase in output of 100 kilowatts and a 600-kilowatt electricity storage unit. Recently, inverters have become available that can form a “power grid” themselves, i.e. are black-start and off-grid capable. In combination with the power storage unit to compensate for power peaks, the 100-kilowatt combined heat and power plant at Poppe’s farm produces around 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity from biogas.

“So we considered the possibility of generating our own electricity and consuming one hundred percent of it ourselves. In our opinion, this is the only real way to generate electricity sustainably,” he concludes.

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