Case Study: M2M increases livestock feed efficiency by 10%

Livestock feeding manufacturer Keenan chose Vodafone to supply a machine-to-machine solution to improve its nutritional data analysis

Livestock feeding manufacturer Keenan chose Vodafone to supply a machine-to-machine (M2M) solution to improve its nutritional data analysis.

Keenan manufactures machines which feed livestock, but as well as the hardware, the company provides a nutritional information service. For the past 20 years, Keenan’s nutrition team has worked with its customers to improve feed efficiency.

The company now uses science and technology to maximise milk and beef yields for thousands of farmers across Europe, the US and Australasia. Like many other industries, including health, retail, transportation and utilities, Keenan chose to look at M2M to improve accuracy and save costs in its business.

M2M allows Keenan’s livestock machines and databases to share data over the Vodafone telecommunications network, using SIM cards embedded in the hardware.  

Keenan found that tracking data through M2M and the cloud improves its accuracy to fine-tune feed mixes for the farm’s animals by drawing on data about the livestock.

A review of 1,000 herds in the UK and France demonstrated that the improved Keenan system increased feed efficiency by 10%, with milk yields increased by 1.74kg per cow every day.

Increased profit and healthier animals

The close analysis of the feed also produces higher quality milk and beef, as well as increasing profits by wasting less, and reducing vet bills due to healthier animals.

“We get a more consistent mix because it goes through each individual ingredient, telling you how much to put in and in what order,” said dairy farmer Ross Carter. "We also build up a good history and can see where we are wasting money. We are 7.5% ahead compared with last year and the condition of our cows is a lot better than they have been."

Established in 1978 in County Carlow, south-east Ireland, Keenan originally gathered all of its nutritional data by hand, sending teams into the field to gather statistics on feed and yield.

In 2008, the company implemented an electronic system. This provided a step-by-step mixing process from gathering data from the machines at the farm.

John McCurdy, business innovation director of Keenan says: “Farmers are busy people and the simple task of taking a memory stick from machine to computer did not happen very often. So data could have been a week or a month old. This data was too old to use to drive performance.”

Additionally the company discovered that the quality of computers on farms across the world varied considerably. “We wanted to take the spec of the machine out of the equation,” says McCurdy.

Moving to the cloud

The obvious answer was a move into the cloud which took away the hassle for the farmer and made it quicker for Keenan to get hold of the data.

Keenan chose Microsoft’s Azure platform for its cloud offering in August 2011 and in February 2012, the company decided to use Vodafone’s M2M solution to track the data on the machines more accurately.

“We weren’t aware of the M2M solution at the time,” says McCrudy. “What came up was Vodafone’s ability to deal with customers in 40 countries. It’s a simple platform to manage data in an economic and controllable way.”

McCrudy says that with M2M, SIM cards can be built into the machines and as soon as it hits the field, they go live. “It gives us control over the data,” he says.

“It’s a real end-to-end solution, with the data coming in every day, so we can adjust accordingly.”

Another benefit of the technology is that the platform allows Keenan to collaborate with others, like the companies who deliver the feed to the farms. 

“It means that with authorisation, the other feed advisors actually have access to the farmers.”

One part of the process that is not yet automated is that the farmer still has to enter the yield that the animal has produced, be that milk or beef. 

“There’s a little bit of input from the farmer on the milk side. That’s our next move – looking into getting that into a direct feed, to take that out of the loop as well,” says McCrudy.

“It’s not about farmers ‘drowning in data but lacking in information’ – it’s how you can pull the different data sources out there and combined you have a much more powerful tool,” says McCrudy. 

“Pull that all together using M2M and we can provide even more value joining the data sets across the farm.”

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