Illula farm in Kenya: better feeding through IDA

Illula Farm is a medium-scale dairy farm located in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, in Kenya. It started operation in 2014 with a herd of 38 cows, producing a total of 48,226 litres of milk per year. Since then, the farm has grown to 48 milking cows producing 235,000 litres of milk per year as of 2018. The farm currently employs more than seven people for the dairy part and another ten people work for the horticulture section.

Dairy is a strategic factor in the movement of populations out of poverty. The development of the dairy sector will fight malnutrition and increase the incomes of smallholder farmers. Connecterra and Bles Dairies East Africa are therefore working with African farmers to help further develop the dairy sector. This is done through a pilot project with Connecterra’s product IDA – the Intelligent Dairy Farmers’ Assistant. The farm of Mr. Magut is one of the participating farms in this pilot.

Actionable insights

Right from the start in 2014, Mr. John Magut has been the manager of the farm. His interest and enthusiasm to apply new technology on the farm made him among the first ones in Kenya to install IDA. And not without success. The implementation of IDA has been a true eye opener for him, as he instantly saw the savvy way in which IDA monitors the behaviour of his cows. Actionable insights provided by IDA’s analytics was a very different way of managing compared to only rely on the farmer’s own gut feeling and experience. During the installation of IDA, Mr Magut was fascinated that an IDA technician could tell him what is happening at the farm, based on the insights. For example, the number of feeding times per cow is shown. Like most of the other farmers in Kenya, Mr. Magut had been struggling to improve the milk production of his herd, caused by challenges to source high quality feed, improve genetics and step up overall management. Especially in the last three months of 2018, the farmer noticed a sharp increase in the milk production, thanks to IDA.

Farm details

  • Number of cows: 58
  • Cows in lactation: 45
  • Heifers: 30
  • Youngstock: 18
  • Average milk production per day / cow: 14-17 litres
  • Annual milk production: 235,000 litres
  • Average insemination rate: 1.4

Direct effect of changing the feed ration

By using the “Ask IDA” feature (literally ask the system to monitor a change or ask if they did the right thing when they made a change), he quickly realised that the herd’s feed ration needed to be changed. IDA made it possible to monitor the responses of each individual cow to the changes made to the diet, such as rumination and eating patterns. Initially, the cows never got enough feed because of being let out of the barn for a few hours during the day. IDA showed that the cows ate less during this period, this is because they did not have access to quality feeds. In addition, Mr. Magut felt that the supervision of the workers was made easier because the activity graphs can show when specific activities such as feeding time occur. Therefore, he is able to tell if the cows are fed at the right time. The intelligent information and actionable insights provided by IDA also help him discuss issues with the workers based on real facts causing the workers to become more accountable.

Heat detection rates and health insights

Illula Farm herdsman, Mr. Josphat Kipkogei, was very pleased by IDA’s accurate heat detection and timely health alerts. A moment that stood out for him was when Ida predicted a milk fever case before the cow became noticeably ill. IDA gave an alert that Cow 76 was less active – eating, ruminating and walking less. The cow had recently calved, so they paid close attention to it and in a few hours the cow was ill. IDA timely alert enabled them to save the cow within two hours. This was the shortest milk-fever downtime ever experienced at the farm. One of the biggest difficulties on the farm has been heat detection. Particularly in a few animals that have experienced “silent” heats. Ida was able to detect heat in the cows before the workers.  In most cases, Ida showed heat alerts before workers could notice any physical signs. Reporting of cows approaching heat has also improved. Before Ida, there were cases where workers didn’t report certain cases of heat. This being because they missed them or caught them too late. As a result, this has also helped increase our insemination rate and calving time. Mr. Kipkogei routinely checks his phone three times a day for new insights. Another wonderful example of how AI is empowering developing countries and supporting local farmers.

IDA learns every day

“IDA combines sensor technology with machine learning and continuous analysis of data in the cloud. It makes use of advanced technology such as artificial intelligence”, explains Leonie ten Dam, Sales Director at Connecterra. In the first week after implementing the sensors, the IDA system uses the analysis of cow movements to discover herd patterns and give reports of anomalies in cow behaviour. It is a self-learning system, based on machine learning and feedback from the dairy farmer. The system learns what is normal behaviour, deviant behaviour and average behaviour. When the cow behaviour changes, the dairy farmer informs the system if something was wrong and which cow(s) were affected. The farmer gives feedback to the system if it was lameness, metritis, milk fever, mastitis or displaced abomasum for example. IDA learns what is happening on the farm and the system helps the farmer to increase the efficiency of the farm. Find out more about IDA here: https://www.ida.io