NCDC235: Precision Management of Animals for Improved Care, Health, and Welfare of Livestock and Poultry

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCDC235: Precision Management of Animals for Improved Care, Health, and Welfare of Livestock and Poultry

Duration: 04/15/2019 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Precision Management of Animals, application of technology within the animal space, is one of the most powerful developments among many new innovations in agriculture and has the potential to revolutionize the livestock industries. Today’s livestock producers are faced with many competing challenges including improving animal welfare, decreasing access to antibiotics, managing waste sustainably, reducing or eliminating odor emission, controlling the thermal environment, and educating and employing qualified animal caretakers.  In addition, producers are faced with shrinking profit margins, which has fueled the expansion of existing livestock production systems in an attempt to preserve economic viability. As a result, current commercial farms typically house large numbers of animals in relatively confined conditions managed by only a few animal caretakers. This combination makes it hard for workers to identify and monitor individual animals, particularly when they all look similar, as is the case with laying hens, broilers or pigs. Current labor and demographic circumstances challenge livestock producers to find employees, especially employees with farm or animal care backgrounds (Carlin et al., 2008). The result is fewer people with less experience caring for more animals. Under these conditions, it is more difficult for caretakers to identify problems (health, production, and/or safety concerns) of individual animals within the facility. This lack of individual attention can lead to welfare problems and result in less than optimal production. 

In modern livestock production, the management unit is typically a herd or flock (animals housed within a facility); little is known about an individual animal (health, well-being, weight gain, behavior, etc.). On a daily basis, the workers note the general condition of individual animals; however, with large groups of animals and a shortage of time, it is difficult to spot individuals with minor or developing health and/or welfare problems.  

The application of technology within the animal space can provide information about not only the behavior of the groups of animals but ideally, will monitor individuals. Monitoring animals using precision management of animals (PMA) technology will be used to improve animal welfare, and the data stream can also help guide new facility design, and genetic evaluation and selection. The greatest opportunity with PMA is its potential to alert the animal caretakers to deliver individual care to an animal showing altered behavior as a result of disease, injury, or a stressor. PMA could also be used to manage animals in ways that more closely approximates their natural state—such as delivering feed multiple times a day to simulate the nearly continuous grazing performed by cattle. To use PMA to improve welfare, however, we need systems that integrate data related to production, health and behavior measures into comprehensible outputs that producers will trust and use. 

Precision management of animals has the potential for disease detection, treatment, and prevention.  In a system where the individual animal is the management unit, electronic monitoring of animals will provide earlier, and more precise, detection of disease and conditions related to welfare.  This capability would reduce the consequences of disease by first minimizing the impact on the individual and by preventing or slowing the spread of the disease through the herd/flock. Additional benefits include reducing the total cost of the medication, and the amount of antibiotic residue entering the waste handling system and potentially the environment. Thus, the resulting benefits are leveraged beyond the animals and the facility. 

Beyond managing health and welfare, the individual animal data stream captured by a PMA system can be used for the development of novel phenotypes and gain insights into the consequences of engineering design of the animal spaces. Novel phenotypes like disease resistance, heat tolerance, and mothering ability, can aid in genetic selection. Not only would this information would assist geneticists in selecting breeding stock, but also identify traits of economic importance for genomic evaluation. Thus, providing information about relevant production traits that is otherwise unobtainable. The collection of individual animal data within a commercial facility will allow engineers an in-depth look at the interaction between environment (stocking density, lighting, temperature, etc.) and behavior and performance of individual animals within the space. This new perspective on facility design will help engineers develop and test different animal facilities in the future.

Precision Management of Animals will change animal production from a primarily manual labor industry to a technology-based industry with targeted management careers. To develop these integrated systems, a truly multi-interdisciplinary approach is needed. The key to PMA is real-time data collection on individual animals with little or no disruption of the animal activities, which requires small wearable sensors integrated with animal identification and video or image analysis of the animals. Meeting this need requires input from electrical engineers and computer scientists with animal scientists to help inform and guide the process so data collection is targeted for the needs of the producer or genetic company. Additionally, disease detection models will require input from veterinarians to detect symptoms of different diseases. Finally, agricultural and biological systems engineers are needed to provide an understanding of animal housing systems and knowledge of modeling biological processes to turn a raw data stream into management information, thus creating novel systems. Using this multi-interdisciplinary approach will ensure that the research generates targeted solutions, and PMA will have a real and sustainable impact on the future of animal production.

To continue to move animal agriculture forward into the future, a combined effort from multiple land grant universities (LGU) is needed. As animal production sometimes varies by region, having people from multiple LGU working on a single effort will allow the research to be guided to ensure that solutions being developed can be applied to animal systems in multiple regions. Housing the PAM multistate committee in the North Central Region takes advantage of the $125 billion agriculture-driven industry which employees 2.4 million people in the region. The North Central Region has large and diverse livestock and poultry industries and is responsible for over 36% of the US food animal production. This region is responsible for 33% of eggs produced, 34% of all milk produced, 43% of beef produced, 75% of pork produced, and over 40% of turkey produced in the USA. Further, the Cooperative Extension Services and Agricultural Experiment stations in this 12-state region have the industry support and the expertise to lead the PMA effort in the USA. The need for PMA is highest within the states that have the largest animal populations.

Within the last year, several activities have occurred to promote and inform researchers about PMA. The 1st US Precision Livestock Farming Symposium was held in Omaha, NE, September 2018 and, Iowa State University held a Precision Livestock Workshop in December 2018. Universities within the North Central Region are looking to hire faculty in this area; in the last year, Nebraska, Illinois, and the Ohio State University hired faculty into newly created positions in Precision Management of Animals. In 2018, efforts at Michigan State, University of Wisconsin Madison and Kentucky have involved current faculty expanding their research into this area. The development of a PMA committee is a very timely effort for the North Central Region, because it will link key researchers across universities and disciplines, that otherwise would not converge into a common ground to develop the discipline. Thus, to facilitate the creation of a community of PMA researchers in the North Central Region, we propose the following: 


  1. Develop and validate precision management tools for animals in production systems
  2. Model data streams for real-time decision making for animal management
  3. Implement and disseminate practical precision management systems for animals


  1. Function as an NC development committee/writing team to develop a proposal for a full, five-year NC multistate project.

Procedures and Activities

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan


Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Genus PLC
Log Out ?

Are you sure you want to log out?

Press No if you want to continue work. Press Yes to logout current user.

Report a Bug
Report a Bug

Describe your bug clearly, including the steps you used to create it.