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  • Your Dairy Farm Needs Big Data

    Your Dairy Farm Needs Big Data

    – but it has to be the right Big Data.

    What is Big Data?

    By now you’ve heard the term Big Data.  It refers to any data that’s collected from many sources.  It’s Big because it’s lots of data, and combined in many ways to create even more data.  With so much information now at our fingertips, it can be used to answer questions with accuracy we’ve never seen before, or questions we’ve previously not even been able to ask.  

    Why is Big Data important to my dairy farm?

    We’re hearing about big data everywhere, from retail, to traffic, to government policy.  But how much do we hear about big data in Dairy Farming?  The concept of big data is now reaching farms.  With vast amounts of accessible data, we can learn more about what’s happening around us, and we can make better decisions.

    For example, you may need to know how your herd is faring with respect to high somatic cell counts (SCC).  By looking at dairy big data collected in your region from different farms, you have the ability to compare your herd with others of similar size and location.

    And cloud data isn’t limited to SCC.  It can include information about breeding, weather, crop yields, and disease rates, to name just a few management questions.  All of this information goes into a database which could be linked with other databases, making dairy data “big” and easy to access.

    This data also helps researchers ask new and bigger questions. The research that comes from this data benefits both cow health and profitability.

    More than just numbers

    Big data in dairy farming doesn’t necessarily just include numbers (structured data). The Increased use of motion sensors and video surveillance means that you can also analyze qualitative (unstructured) data in the form of photos and video footage.

    This is especially true in calving/maternity and young stock areas. These groups may behave differently when people are around, making it difficult to detect changes in behavior. Being able to remotely view cows helps identify illness or determine if a laboring cow needs help.

    Finding the right data – Identify your dairy data requirements:

    Is sharing safe?

    Before you share anything, read what information you are sharing and how it will be handled. For most purposes, cloud data is aggregate, and anonymous.  This means that your data is combined with data from other dairy farmers like you, and your information cannot be singled out and identified.  But, before you share, check with the company you will be using and make sure you are comfortable with their use of your farm data.

    When sharing non-number data, such as video or still images, your discretion is needed.  If you are sharing a video feed, be sure you are comfortable with the audience.

    Are the data useful?

    When you look at cloud data you’ll be using it to help make business decisions for your dairy farm.  Before you rely on the data, take a look at the sources.  Is the aggregate data applicable to you, your farm, and the questions you need answered? 

    If you are deciding on something like preventative measures for mastitis, for example, does the dairy data you are looking at reflect the probability of problems in your region, your climate, your herd?

    Is the information valid?

    It’s important to consider how trustworthy the data is. It isn’t enough to use just any collected data.  It has to be accurate or you could end up making bad decisions. The number of sources of data is also vital to get correct answers to some questions. 

    You don’t want to decide that there is an epidemic of mastitis if 75% of dairy cows have a problem, only to find the data set includes only 4 cows on a distant farm.

    Finally, is it all worthwhile?

    The answer is likely a resounding yes, but you have to know and understand your questions first and decide the value of answers.  Since some of the dairy data is your own, you also have to consider the labor and costs associated with collecting it to use yourself and to share it.


    There are many benefits to collecting and using big data on your dairy farm.

    Aggregating data improves decision making, efficiency, cost/revenue optimization and risk management.  Big data can be used not only to predict outcomes, but to understand what causes the outcome so it can be replicated, or prevented.

    Wondering how big data can help you increase your revenue this year? Contact us today about using dairy data to reduce the risk of high SCC on your farm.

    About the Author

    Anna Schwanke is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, Ontario. She is responsible for researching and writing about a wide variety of topics related to dairy cow welfare and management for Dairy Quality Inc. The 10 years she spent living in Australia, as well as her love of travelling, give her a firsthand viewpoint of issues facing the international dairy community. She plans to graduate from the University’s College of Physical & Engineering Science in 2019 and pursue a career in the Life Sciences or Agriculture industry.

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