British supermarket trials ‘AI vet’ for dairy cows

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/Vladimir Zapletin
Getty/Vladimir Zapletin
The technology continuously analyzes video footage and turn it into health alerts and reports to help improve animal welfare and farm efficiency.

UK grocery major Sainsbury’s has deployed an ‘AI vet’ across some of its dairy farms.

The technology leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse footage captured through portable cameras and turns it into data that producers and veterinarians can use to support timely health interventions and other on-farm activities.

For example, the system can generate health and welfare alerts and benchmarking reports that can better inform decisions around housing improvements and other farming efficiency strategies. Because the monitoring is continuous, veterinarians can use the data to spot early signs of illness or adopt a ‘test and learn’ approach to welfare management – for example by tracking if fitting housing enhancements such as cow brushes reduces stress.

AI enables detailed monitoring of dairy cows. Image: Vet Vision AI

The technology has been deployed at 30 of the retailer’s circa 170 Dairy Development Group farms, with additional roll-out anticipated next year.

The system was created by Vet Vision AI, a spin-out company of University of Nottingham where the algorithms that remotely measure cattle health and welfare were first developed.

Dr James Breen, Professor in Cattle Health at the University of Nottingham, said: “I have begun to use this AI technology with dairy herd health clients as part of our routine monitoring of health and welfare. The ability of the system to observe the cows' natural behaviours without disturbing the animals, and to turn these observations into hard outcomes, is of huge value when planning interventions to improve foot health, udder health, fertility performance and so on.”

Veterinary surgeon Dr Tom Angel of Synergy Farm Health, added: “Vet Vision AI has allowed us to identify positive animal welfare on farms, such as increased lying times and cow comfort, as well as management factors that need addressing to improve these outputs.

“The use of the computer vision technology has then been able to assess the impact of any changes we have implemented, objectively revealing how the animals have responded positively to the environmental and management changes.”

How is artificial intelligence being deployed in the dairy industry?

While AI became a global buzzword with the arrival of OpenAI’s generative AI product ChatGPT in late 2022, the agriculture industry has been taking advantage of other AI applications, such as machine-learning and precision-farming technologies, for many years now.

From milk capture technology to wearable sensors that can track calve welfare and estrus behaviors, management decisions have been improving and streamlining thanks to technology.

While video monitoring techniques have existed in the past – and have been an attractive, low-cost solution to monitor animal behavior – AI has enabled a new breed of monitoring solutions that can directly translate video-captured behaviors into analytics data.

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