Livestock systems are comprised of sets of complex interconnected processes each with their own outputs eg growth, yield, animal health, welfare and environmental emissions. Livestock management decisions are currently based almost entirely on the judgement and experience of the stockman who has to estimate or guess the likely effects of any control action.
An integrated management system for a livestock production enterprise would be one which controlled all relevant processes. For example if the purpose of the system was to regulate nutritional input in order to control animal growth and pollutant emissions, the controller would calculate input values which would enable growth and emissions criteria to be satisfied simultaneously.
The essential components of an integrated management system are sensors and models. Developments in sensor technology will make available increasing amounts of information relevant to monitoring animals and their environment. Model-based control systems are particularly appropriate for accommodating the variability of most livestock production processes. Models exist for most of the economically important and scientifically interesting processes in livestock production. However the requirements of a process model that is to be incorporated into a controller are different from those of a model which is aimed at demonstrating understanding of the process. Areas where process models are lacking include those involving interactions between production and environmental factors.
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