The ever-increasing world population combined with developing countries undergoing a lifestyle change and becoming financially able to purchase animal products there is an increasing pressure on the livestock industry to maintain supply and demand, and yet the career or desire to farm is dwindling. Overtime this will inevitably mean bigger herd sizes to a smaller amount of famer or farm workers which creates a problem only modern technology may be able to solve.
Alhumdulilah scientists, technology experts, veterinary professionals, animal behaviourists and the like have spent many years creating on farm technology in an attempt so solve modern farming and animal welfare issues.
Precision livestock farming technology enables farmers to monitor the behaviour and environment conditions of the animals real- time which can indicate health and welfare issues from a distance without the need for huge staffing numbers. Previously (and still in some cases) health and welfare was monitored and assessed by human experts using score-based chart systems which can be generalised and exceptions may occur.
Although the use of technology and monitoring does not magically improve the life and welfare of the animal if the environment, husbandry and management by the human is all wrong, it is very beneficial to enable farmers to detect behavioural and environmental problems resulting in health and welfare issues while the animal is being reared and to take immediate management action.
For example, the below shows the behaviour of broiler chickens, the red line is the feeder line, real time cameras show the chickens have changed feeding behaviours so the farmer can then investigate.
Also cattle monitoring using CowAlert, sensors are placed on the legs which allows activity measurement and detection of conditions such as lameness and oestrus.
Alongside PLF other technology is making fundamental changes to modern farming and animal management.
The development of Cyber- Grazing. Instead of using electric or constantly maintaining fencing around large areas of farmland, free grazing can be achieved with the use of GPS and a mounted device which causes a shock or a noise to alert the cattle to keep away from a certain area.
Drones. Although expensive, Drones can be used for Hill farming to identify animals, movements, and grass use.
Research is also being conducted to detect urine distribution by cattle. Farmers add nutrients to grass for pasture growth, Urine can add up to 10 times the amount of these nutrients. Research by Professor Bob Rees SRUC tackles the agricultural environmental problems, his research shows applying additional nutrients to the urine patches you can enhance ammonia emissions, nitrous oxide, and leaching. This technology development would help farmers identify urine patches and adjust their fertiliser applications.
AI for pain detection. Visual AI has been developed to determine if sheep (or potentially other livestock) are in pain by their facial expression – their ear and nose position. A lot of animals will look healthy from a quick glance and be carrying on normal activities such as feeding when actually something else may be wrong causing them pain.
All of these modern technologies are fantastic and have enable a vast amount of research into understanding animal behaviour and welfare, especially where animals under our guardianship are concerned in an ever-changing world.
However we must think about these technological advances from a Tayyib perspective for livestock which supply the Halal industry.
Are these technological advances giving us the means to intensively farm on an even bigger scale by taking away our conscious regarding Tayyib and Animal welfare and allowing us as humans to abuse our power over livestock because “the technology says all is fine”?.
“Fear God in these mute animals…..”- Hadith Abu Dawud, gives us a clear warning here not to abuse our power over the animals we rear.
Yes of course these technologies are helping to improve Tayyib but on the other hand allowing (as stated above) huge herds of animals to be housed with less human management to batch produce for an increasing population, in effect the factory farm is now becoming a AI controlled factory industry and as humans we are slowly loosing the animal to human compassionate relationship which Allah has blessed us with.
With fast changing modern farming, agricultural technology plus pressure for a sustainable future looming, Tayyib and Animal welfare is not the simple subject it once was in prophetic times and all of this should be considered as conditions of Animal rearing for a Halal AND Tayyib industry.