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EU-funded Research into Precision Livestock Farming

10 December 2013

European Commission Research

Two projects funded by the European Union into Precision Livestock Farming - one complete and one on-going - are described in a new European Commission report, 'A Decade of EU-funded Animal Production Research'.

Multidisciplinary Approach to Practical and Acceptable Precision Livestock Farming for SMEs in Europe and Worldwide

Rising protein intake in developing countries, as well as rising concern over animal health and welfare in developed countries, present serious challenges to farmers.

Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) aims to enable the farmer to re-connect with individual animals or small animal groups in spite of growing intensification. It uses technology to give farmers additional hands, ears and eyes.

BrightAnimal - a 24-month project started in April 2009 - was set up to assess what has been achieved so far in PLF and to highlight future research needs.

The goal was to identify practical and acceptable PLF. This was done by a multi-disciplinary team of experts from all five continents involving experts on business and ethics, as well as biologists and engineers.


PLF has in recent years found itself in the crossfire between engineering, natural sciences (especially biology) and livestock farming. Regular conferences on PLF suggest that the science is now being taken into account.

The original hope was that PLF, by applying precision methods, would reduce resource needs and improve the efficiency of livestock farming, improve animal health and welfare, and reduce the gap between producers and consumers. We now need to know whether or not this has happened. The BrightAnimal partners believe there are two main reasons why PLF has not produced the results expected: it is seen as neither acceptable nor practical.

Livestock farming is influenced by four main stakeholder groups with different interests in PLF: governments, through food laws and regulations; animal and human welfare interest groups, e.g. NGOs; consumers, through their purchasing patterns; and farmers, many of whom have small-scale operations.

Of these, consumers and farmers are key to influencing improvements in the management of livestock farming. Consumers are the main driving force for the food market. Their decisions very much drive innovations on the farms, be it to meet expectancy of low food prices by improving efficiency, or by providing information to the consumer via labels, traceability or other means. Farmers, of course, have a major influence. They have to make the decision to implement PLF.


BrightAnimal had the mission to produce a framework for European and non-European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on effective and acceptable precision livestock farming, and to create an international, interdisciplinary network for further development and dissemination. The focus was on fish from aquaculture, cattle, pigs and chicken.


The project produced:

  • The book 'Practical and Acceptable Precision Livestock Farming'
  • A Precision Livestock Farming Wiki as a basis for Good PLF Practices, accessible on-line via;
  • A leaflet for farmers on PLF, together with a five-minute smart farming diagnostic
  • A network of professionals from academia and industry, including from other EU projects and outside the EU.

Potential impact

By raising awareness of the commercial, social and ethical advantages to be gained from properly applied PLF principles and producing a framework for their implementation, together with guides for best practices and the monitoring of standards, BrightAnimal will make a significant contribution towards the creation of more profitable, efficient and socially acceptable livestock and aquaculture sectors.

BrightAnimal brought together previous research findings to identify gaps in knowledge and research and recommend future actions. This alone has given PLF a higher profile among relevant stakeholders, who for the first time now have an authoritative point of reference for making judgments on the application of PLF, and for obtaining guidance and information.

In addition to the book, the project resulted in over 20 other publications.

The coordinator was Dr Heiner Lehr of FoodReg Technology S.L., Spain.


AIM UK Ltd, UK; Nofima Marin AS, NO; Bitland Enterprise APS, FO; Danmarks Tekniske Universitet, DK; Estonian University of Life Sciences, EE; Institute of Quality Standards & Testing Technology for Agro-products, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, CN; Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, ZA; Kasetsart University, TH; Department of Veterinary Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Agrobased Industry of Malaysia, MY; Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria, BR; Department of Primary Industries and Resources South Australia, AU; Aalborg University, DK

Bright Farm by Precision  Livestock Farming – Animal- and Farm-centric Approach to Precision Livestock Farming in Europe

The objective of the EU-PLF project is to deliver a validated blueprint for an animal and farm-centric approach to innovative livestock farming in Europe that is proven through extensive field studies. This blueprint will be a reference tool, offering pragmatic guidance on how Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) systems can be applied at farm level in order to create value for the farmer and other stakeholders.

EU-PLF is investigating the use of continuously automated measurements directly on the animal, or its environment. The recorded data - such as body movements, sounds, etc. - can be used to monitor and manage livestock and translated into key indicators for animal welfare, animal health, productivity and environmental impact.

The project started in November 2012 and is scheduled to run for 48 months at a cost to the European Commission of  €5,895,357.


A modern farmer is confronted with increasing pressure to care for a larger number of animals in order to have an economically viable business – pressures which will become more acute in future years. Due to scale, farmers dispose of less time for caring for each individual animal, while society expects animals to receive more individual attention.

It is increasingly difficult for European farmers to pay sufficient attention to individual animals and build a stronger relationship with them – not only in production-intensive sectors like poultry and pigs, but also in dairy production. This problem must be faced in the context of wider challenges, including increasing concerns about links between animal and human health, the need to reduce the environmental load of livestock, and the need to optimise the productivity of livestock farming to respond to a growing world population.


EU-PLF aims to deliver a validated blueprint for an animal and farm-centric approach to innovative terrestrial farming

The blueprint will be shaped as a ‘manual’ with online web site support. It will describe how to turn PLF technologies into robust, operational systems at farm level and how to use these technologies to create value for the animal, farmers and other stakeholders in the food chain. The project will define Key Indicators (KIs) at farm level and corresponding gold standards. These will allow the capture of quantitative information directly from the animal or its environment related to animal welfare, animal health, environmental load and productivity.

The partners will identify 50 high-tech SMEs or potential start-ups, which will be informed about the project’s potential for helping them innovate within the European livestock market by bringing their high-tech products into PLF systems – which can be commercialised by existing market players. They will be challenged and encouraged by a competition to put in place the idea of ‘PLF as a service’.

Potential applications

The validated blueprint – the main deliverable of the project, will be made available to all interested parties. Different stakeholders in the food supply chain can use the blueprint to create new PLF products and services.

The blueprint will document the process of starting from an idea to delivering a product with proven added value. Although the project uses pigs, poultry and cattle as demonstrators, the applicability of the blueprint extends to other species and services in the sector.

The coordinator of this project is Daniel Berckmans, KU Leuven, Belgium.


Aerts J.-M. et al. (2003), Active Control of the Growth Trajectory of Broiler Chickens based on On-Line Animal Responses, Poultry Science, 2003b, 82(12): 1853-1862.

Wathes C. et al. (2008), Is precision livestock farming an engineer’s daydream or nightmare, an animal’s friend or foe, and a farmer’s panacea or pitfall? Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 64(1): 2–10.

Blokhuis, H.J. et al. (2010), The Welfare Quality® project and beyond: safeguarding farm animal well-being. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica A, Animal Science, 60:129 -140.

Gregersen O. et al. (2011), Economic aspects of PLF. In Acceptable and Practical Precision Livestock Farming, Vol. 1, 149-178 (Eds I. G. Smith and H. Lehr). Halifax, UK: European Commission.

Viazzi S. et al. (2013), Analysis of individual classification of lameness using automatic measurement of back posture in dairy cattle, Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 96, Issue 1:257-266.

December 2013

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