Letting Cows Tell Our Story

The story of Allflex Livestock Intelligence began in 1955 when Brian Murphy, a dairy farmer, and John Burford, an entrepreneur and founder of a metal engraved plates’ manufacturer, came together in Palmerston North, New Zealand to invent a flexible, plastic ear tag to identify livestock more reliably and efficiently.
calendar icon 8 October 2019
clock icon 6 minute read

MSD Animal Health - NYSE:MRK

That was the beginning of a business that would grow through the popularity of its innovative products into a world leader in the design, development, manufacturing and delivery of animal identification and animal monitoring solutions across all production animal species, companion animals and fish.

"Animal health intelligence is rapidly emerging as a high-growth sector within the animal health industry," said Brian Bolton, Chief Executive Officer, Antelliq, an operating unit of Merck Animal Health. "Our pioneering work links animal identification and traceability to animal monitoring technology and capabilities. This applied technology allows us to help our customers by delivering real-time, actionable data and insights to help, improve or enhance animal management and health outcomes."

The animal health business is challenged on many fronts.

  • There is growing concern with ways to meet food demand for the world’s nine billion people by 2050.
  • There is limited ability to grow herds and increase reliance on technology to bridge the gap between supply and demand to boost productivity.
  • There is an evolving public concern around food safety and traceability.
  • There are issues surrounding disease control and eradication as well as preserving animal well-being and welfare.

"As a leading provider of animal identification and monitoring technology and real-time data and analytics, we identify more than 500 million animals with tags each year for our customers," said Jeroen van de Ven, Chief Operating Officer, Allflex Livestock Intelligence. "We have accumulated over 5.5 million monitored cows daily in which we are able to classify and detect various animal actions and behaviors in a minute resolution from early fertility to immediate health alerts. This high-quality and detailed sensory information feeds a state-of-the-art suite of machine learning algorithms that generate real-time, actionable data and insights for farmers, producers, veterinarians and pet owners alike. Currently, over 1.3 million cows are connected and analyzed via our real-time Cloud service platform."

Technology Components

The company’s animal identification business markets visual ear tags (VID), which contain printed identification numbers unique to the animal or the farm. The company also markets electronic identification (EID) tags, which hold RFID (radio-frequency identification) electronic components that have the ability to read information digitally. The shape and size of the tags can vary based on species. Additionally, the company markets tissue sampling tags which have the ability to easily capture DNA samples while tagging the animal. The combination of this wide span of technologies address customer needs, including traceability, government regulations, genomic testing and proof of ownership.

Within the company’s animal monitoring business, advanced monitoring tags (collars and ear tags) provide heat detection, health reports and real-time alerts for individual cows as well as groups of cows. The monitoring tags contain advanced sensors and algorithms to capture and extract important insights, such as animal activity, feeding management, disease detection, animal behavior (eating, grazing, ruminating) and normal vs abnormal behavior.

The company’s digital technology and predictive analytics business then analyzes the data, which is used by farmers to manage hundreds of millions of animals worldwide. By putting this data into the farmers’ hands, they are well-prepared to safeguard their animals’ health and well-being, while achieving optimal production outcomes for a healthy food supply.

Most importantly, the company’s analytical tools and data analysis provide value across the entire ecosystem, including farmers, genetics and artificial intelligence companies, government institutions, meat and dairy distributors and retailers and animal nutrition companies. "We analyze large amounts of accumulated data related to animal activity and health outcomes 24 hours a day from multiple farms to support this broader ecosystem. We have a well-developed infrastructure that has helped us build the scale and capabilities that we have today," said Bolton.

"We have the potential to improve productivity, enhance traceability, assist in disease prevention and provide for animal health and well-being accountability. For us, it’s about the ability to combine the physiological understanding of the animal with the mathematical models, machine learning and artificial intelligence to make sense of all these data points that we collect."

New Product Launches

Most recently, Allflex Livestock Intelligence launched the ALLFLEX YOUNG STOCK™ Application for new born calves up to six months of age. This light-weight monitoring ear tag monitors a calf’s behavior to provide real-time actionable data and insights into health status and behavioral trends from the moment of birth. By monitoring these health trends, livestock farmers can detect the onset of health issues often before clinical symptoms appear, including respiratory disease and gastrointestinal issues.

The company also launched its SENSEHUB® Beef Monitoring System, which is the first heat- and health-monitoring system that analyzes the real-time behavior of beef cattle, so that beef farmers stay in touch with their herd anytime and anywhere. The system lets farmers know if an animal is in distress or needs attention, monitoring such areas as peak time for insemination to optimize conception rates, early detection of health problems for quicker intervention, defining the most suitable feeding strategy, reporting difficult birth situations and post-natal health problems and monitoring sudden, planned or unforeseen changes within groups.

Research and Development Connection

"We combine animal science and complex mathematical models in a portfolio of digitally connected identification, traceability and monitoring products," said Eli Kamhine, Chief Technology Officer, Antelliq Innovation Center. "Our multidisciplinary teams have a wide diversity of science and technology backgrounds, including hardware designers, software specialists, artificial intelligence scientists, veterinarians and animal researchers. Within our vast capabilities, we can classify individual animal behavior to look for specific knowledge about the animal, such as fertility, health, nutrition, group routine and even stress events. We can even now look at relationships with groups of animals and even larger trends. As an example, we pioneered our SENSEHUB® Dairy Monitoring System in several regions around the world to monitor the well-being of dairy cows so that their reproductive, health and nutritional well-being are tracked."

Growing Business

In 2020, Allflex Livestock Intelligence will celebrate its 65th year. Through the decades, Allflex acquired a number of companies and brands, which broadened its identification technology depth and footprint. From 2008 onward, a number of important companies with deep roots in livestock identification joined the Allflex family, including OS ID, Destron Fearing, Merko, Cox & Ritchey and Aleis.

In 2010, Allflex extended its reach beyond dry land, seeing the growing importance of aquaculture and sustainable wild fish population with the acquisition of Biomark, a world leader in RFID technology for fish. In 2014, the Allflex Group is formed and brings on SCR, a 40-year veteran with animal health monitoring and digital agriculture, linking animal identification and traceability to animal monitoring. The growth of Animal Intelligence is born. In 2015, the Allflex Group takes the company further into the Companion Animal sector with the acquisition of Sure Petcare. Four years later in 2019, Antelliq, a company comprised of Allflex Livestock Intelligence, Sure Petcare and Biomark, joined the Merck Animal Health family as an operating unit.

The increased use of digital technology in our industry is driven by the growing demand for protein, food traceability and food safety, ensuring a sustainable supply of quality food, protecting public health and helping people and their pets enjoy their lives together.

Merck Animal Health is helping to shape the future of animal health and set new industry standards in veterinary medicine. It is a way of connecting animals and people for a smarter future.

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