Vivek M. Patil
Dairying in India has traditionally been the preserve of landless agricultural labourers and small and marginal farmers, who have maintained very small herd sizes. However, of late, with increasing consumer awareness regarding milk quality, there has been a marked increase in the number of large, well-organized dairy farms which cater to predominantly urban markets. Terms like clean milk production, organic milk, microbial load of milk etc. are being used more frequently while referring to milk quality. Larger, intensive dairy farms not only profit from the economies of scale by way of optimum utilization of land, labour and resources, but also benefit from the fact that it is easier and cost-effective to implement more efficient technologies like machine milking, manufacture of by-products, chilling, packaging, bulk transport etc. Further, most of these farms are able to realize a premium price for their products on account of high quality and brand identity, thus leading to greater profitability.
In most developed countries, livestock management software is an integral part of the farm, without which it would be almost impossible to manage the large number of animals efficiently. However, in India, almost all organized farms in the Government and private sector depend on the traditional method of record keeping viz. registers. While the reliability of this system cannot be denied, the traditional data recording system has many limitations which greatly restrict their application on large dairy farms, especially in today’s world where efficiency of production is the most important goal of any professional livestock manager.
Though many commercial livestock management software packages like Cattle Manager, Cattle Works, Cattle Max, DeLaval ALPRO, eRanch, Livestock Management System, Stockeeper’03 are available in developed countries, they are very expensive with prices ranging from Rs. 50,000 to a few lakhs. Further, they do not provide technical support in India, use terminologies which may be difficult to comprehend, cannot be modified as per the local requirements, and are not available in regional languages. Most herd management software run on the ubiquitous Relational Database Management System - Microsoft Access, a component of Microsoft Office, and would need a Personal Computer costing about Rs. 15,000 with licensed software worth about Rs. 5,000, thus bringing the total initial cost (excluding HMS) to less than the cost of a crossbred cow.
In India, efforts have been initiated to design herd management software at the CIRB, Hissar and at TANUVAS, Chennai. A private dairy farm, Chitale Dairy, located near Pune, has successfully implemented the DeLaval ALPRO system and reported a 15% increase in total milk production after the use of computerized record-keeping and RFID tags for buffaloes.
Typical Herd Management Software Modules
· Home Screen: This forms the starting point from where we can quickly access the areas which we use most often. Sample screenshot:
· Breeding: Allows the user to enter service dates, scan dates etc, calculates and displays dates due to calve, can record donor and recipient dams and will record the offspring as being an ET birth.
· Individual records: For recording photos and body measurements on various dates; includes support for electronic identification devices.
· Pedigree: Shows sires and dams as a pedigree chart.
· Status: Shows details about various categories of animals on the farm. i.e. male/female, milking/dry, adult/heifer/calf etc.
· Movement : An entry is automatically added to the movement book every time an animal is purchased or sold or moved to any other farm.
· Feeding: Feeding details of individual animals; concentrate feed compounding.
· Milking: Individual production records; milk disposal.
· Health: Complete record of individual/group health records with details of symptoms, drug used, dosage, route of administration etc.
· Task Reminder: Notify you ahead of time of any planned tasks such as expected due date, veterinarian services, stall cleaning, etc.
· Finance: Income and expenses under various categories; can also generate balance sheets.
· Reports: Can be Standard or user-defined.
· Address Book: Business related name and address is listed in one common place.
Advantages of Herd Management Software:
a) Ease of entering data: The manager needs to enter all information into one console instead of searching for the relevant page to enter data in 20 or more registers which have to be maintained in an organized dairy farm.
b) Error-checking: In a large herd, it is quite likely that the person who writes the records does not see the cattle on a daily basis. This makes the system more prone to human error in the form of erroneous figures/dates, illegible/confusing handwriting, entering data on the wrong history sheet etc. Herd management software can be programmed to warn the operator regarding entry of erroneous data. eg. The program can refuse to record drying off of a cow which is not milking, or calving in a heifer which has not been served.
c) Ease of initiation: The software can be installed on any desktop or notebook PC. Some versions of the software allow data entry on a PalmTop/Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) which the manager can carry around with him on the farm and synchronize later with the main computer. As all these programs have an easy Graphical User Interface (GUI) consisting of icons for most routine activities, any person with basic computer knowledge can start using the software with a few hours of instruction.
d) Data security: As most software of this type needs the user to log in with a username and password before he can start accessing data, data security is absolute. Further, various levels of access like User, Supervisor and Manager can be created, with different rights for each, so that lower-level operators cannot tamper with data. eg. ‘User’ cannot access previous day’s data, or ‘Supervisor’ cannot access Reports and Analysis module etc. Such kind of data security is very difficult to attain in traditional recording systems, where almost all registers are accessible to all employees and there is scope for manipulation, fraud or loss of data integrity.
e) Generates information automatically: HMS automatically generates information based on the data which has been fed in. The farm manager need not waste his time calculating totals or counting the number of days between two dates. eg. Entering the daily milk yields will automatically generate information like lactation milk yield, peak yield etc. Entering date of calving and date of successful insemination will generate service period.
f) Generates visual indicators: Software can generate visual indicators like graphs, pie charts etc. which assist the farm manager in comprehending the trends behind the numbers. eg. A lactation milk curve best indicates a cow’s milking performance rather than 600 numbers representing the morning and evening milk yields spread over a period of ten months.
g) Generates efficiency indicators: Software can be programmed to automatically generate productive, reproductive and economic efficiency indicators like persistency of milk yield, milk yield/day of lactation, milk yield/day of calving interval, milk yield/day of body weight at calving, lifetime milk yield, growth studies etc. which can aid the manager in making decisions regarding selection. A similar exercise using registers would be prohibitively time-consuming, error-prone and laborious.
h) Allows comparisons: The manager can compare performance of two individuals, two groups of animals, or the same animal/group over different time periods of time to assess superior performance of individuals/groups and managerial measures which can increase productivity. This feature can be of great help in the evaluation of any new technology before implementation in the whole herd. eg. A new feed additive can be added to the diet of one group of cows and their milking performance compared instantly with a similar group which is not fed the additive. Traditional history sheets and other records do not permit this type of comparison unless lot of manual computing is done.
i) Reminders: Herd management software can remind the farm manager every morning about the scheduled activities for the day like vaccination, deworming, ectoparasiticide application, insemination, pregnancy diagnosis, routine maintenance etc. It will also greatly assist him in carrying out these operations in a timely manner and enable him to prioritize and organize his activities for the day. eg. On entering data about the dates of insemination, the program will automatically remind the manager when it’s time to conduct a pregnancy test.
j) Alarms: Traditional record keeping systems do not warn the farm manager about potential events that can be detected by abnormal changes in some of the parameters. eg. Software can be programmed to sound an alarm when there is abnormal decrease in daily milk production of any cow, which can be on account of estrus or disease.
k) Generates reports: Herd management software can generate daily, monthly or annual reports, or reports for a specific time-period automatically. The format of the reports can be changed as per the user’s requirements. These reports give an overall summary of the activities of the farm and help improve managerial efficiency. eg. Milking report, Breeding report, Sales report, Expenditure Statement etc. As these reports are dynamic, any change in the data will be immediately reflected in the report, thus allowing the farm manager to conduct “what-if” studies. Such iterative studies are not possible in traditional record keeping systems.
l) Scalability: With today’s desktop computers, there is virtually no limit to the amount of herd data which can be handled and processed. It does not make much difference whether the herd has 20 cows or 2,000.....the same program can cater to any herd size. However, traditional recording systems become more cumbersome, labour-intensive and error-prone as the herd size increases.
m) Ease of backing up data: In a large, organized dairy farm, information is almost as valuable as the livestock itself! Loss of pedigree and performance data recorded over a period of years can be devastating, especially in dairy cattle, where the generation interval is very large. Traditional record-keeping systems deteriorate over time, are difficult to duplicate, and prone to damage and destruction by way of fire, moisture, insects, pests etc. However, computerized records can be securely backed up on a flash drive, a removable hard disk, a CD/DVD or on the internet at the touch of a button.
n) Data transmission for expert evaluation: The entire herd data for a period of many years can be sent instantly across the world via the internet to experts for assessment and evaluation. This can be very helpful in situations like culling where the manager has to take decisions and a mistake can have severe long-term repercussions. Other possible applications of this feature are the Progeny Testing Programme, wherein the performance of different sires can be evaluated on various farms under varying conditions. It can also be used as a component of the Herd Registration Scheme to compile performance data from various locations.
o) Ease of analysis: Data generated by herd management software can be easily converted to MS-Excel, MS-Access or any other database format and subjected to statistical analysis for evaluating various factors influencing performance.
p) Integration with newer technologies: Herd management software is an essential requirement in case the farm manager wishes to implement newer technologies like Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID), advanced machine milking etc. in order to improve farm efficiency.
q) Eco-friendly: In times when livestock are being blamed by various organizations for causing more global warming than all the world’s automobiles combined, computerized, paper-less farm records are more eco-friendly, and their contribution to saving the environment, by way of increasing efficiency and decreasing the number of livestock which need to be reared, would be substantial.
Limitations of HMS in the Indian Context
a) Lack of indigenous software: Absence of commercially available software with technical support, local terminology & availability in regional languages is the single foremost factor which has prevented the large-scale usage of herd management software in India.
b) Negligent attitude towards productivity: There is a very casual attitude toward efficiency of production, especially in the agricultural sector. In most dairy farms, the only parameter in which the owner is interested is the total milk yield produced by the herd every day; individual records are rarely maintained. Given such a situation, motivating the farm owners to take up computerized farm recording would be a major challenge.
c) Lack of computer awareness: With the computer becoming omnipresent from primary schools to financial institutions, this factor is not such an insurmountable one, especially given the fact that most modern dairy farms are located in peri-urban areas.
d) Infrastructure requirements: A dust-free room and stable power with adequate backup are essential requirements. These should not be such a major encumbrance in any large-scale dairy farm.
Thus, simple, easy-to-use, efficient and cost-effective herd management software would greatly aid the manager of an organized dairy farm to make decisions based on real-time data as well as to analyze various parameters instantly, thus greatly increasing managerial effectiveness and profitability, and enabling him to manage larger herds. It is, therefore, imperative that leading veterinary institutions in India take the initiative in developing and popularizing herd management software.
Excerpt from 'Information Technology in Veterinary Science' (2009), New India Publishing Agency, New Delhi. ISBN 978-81-908512-4-4. More details here.