Zoetis believes precision animal farming innovation can help advance sector

24th June 2020 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Creamer Media Online Writer

As agriculture will play a critical role in the economic recovery of South Africa in the wake of Covid-19, animal health company Zoetis intends to introduce various innovations to help local farmers increase their productivity.

Zoetis South Africa business unit director Dr Ralf Patzelt explains that the company wants to do more than just deliver medicine.

“Most pharmaceutical companies come from that base, selling drugs to address specific diseases. We want to be involved in the complexities of producing profitable and healthy livestock across the entire value chain and across the continuum of care,” he says.

Zoetis considers digital innovation, diagnostics, genetic testing and biodevices as important tools to help veterinarians and farmers make better healthcare decisions that are informed by data.

Patzelt believes the continuous improvement of digital and diagnostic technologies paves the way for predicting disease in livestock, ushering in the possibilities of “precision animal farming”.

“Expanding point-of-care diagnostics will make detection of disease faster and more accurate.”

Simultaneously, a growing portfolio of genomic tests enables farmers to select for specific genetic traits in beef and dairy cattle.

These identify the most productive animals, while allowing farmers to predict which animals may have greater resilience to common and costly diseases, and therefore choose animals that can help improve the health of their herds.

The company’s portfolio of biodevices includes sophisticated robotics and automation for the vaccination of livestock. This is particularly pertinent in the poultry industry where Zoetis provides a growing range of hatchery solutions.

Patzelt explains that, now, vaccines can be applied to one-day-old chicks or even to eggs. “We can provide solutions and machines that can successfully do an in-ovo application.”

Another ground-breaking innovation that Patzelt is confident will come to South Africa is data analytic systems that will enable farmers to track the movement and health of individual animals.

“Internationally, we are involved in a very interesting project that will enable us to provide farmers with sensors for individual cows to monitor movement, body temperatures, detect rumination and assess overall health.”

Further, Patzelt says local farmers face similar challenges to their international counterparts.

“Globally, farmers have to do more with less. Powerful trends such as human population growth, a rising middle class in developing markets and a steady migration of people from rural communities to urban centres are driving demand for animal health products and services.

“Our customers are challenged by increasingly limited natural resources, more frequent emerging infectious diseases and other constraints.”

These include dealing with consumers’ sustainability, food safety and animal welfare concerns.

Patzelt says this means they will have to be more productive while still responding to pressure from many parts of society to use less antibiotics and be more careful about the use of financial and environmental resources.

South African farmers, in particular, have also had to contend with debilitating droughts and changing rainfall patterns associated with climate change.