Precision Grassland Dairy Platform

Genetics | Reproduction | Behaviour | Nutrition | Health & Welfare | Productivity | Food Integrity | Environmental Impact

Protecting the environment and developing efficiency through diet and improved animal health and performance.

In partnership with


AFBI Precision Grassland Dairy Platform offers extensive research capability in the areas of grazing and indoor feeding systems with capacity to precisely monitor individual dietary intake, behaviour, health and welfare from birth through to adulthood. AFBI’s 330 cow dairy herd comprises approximately 230 Holstein-Friesian cows (within the top 1% of UK herds for £PLI), with the remainder of the cows being crossbred (predominantly 3-breed crossbreds). Cows calve from early September through to mid-April, meaning that there are freshly calved cows available for use in research programmes involving either winter feeding or grazing strategies. Female offspring from the herd are mostly reared for replacements, and for use in calf and heifer research programmes. There are approximately 220 dairy youngstock on the farm, with heifers reared to calve at 24 months of age.

Key research expertise, include novel nutrition, breeding and broader management strategies:

  • Calf and heifer nutrition and management strategies
  • Crossbreeding and alternative genotype
  • Dairy cow nutrition, including concentrate supplementation strategies, novel nutritional approaches, including grazing systems incorporating precision technologies, forage production and utilisation
  • Health and welfare – calves through to adulthood
  • Environmental challenges, such as ammonia, greenhouse gases and phosphorus
  • Milk quality and economics of milk production systems

Principle features

Precision Dairy – 50-point fully automated rotary milking parlour equipped with a concentrate feeding system which allows up to four different concentrate types to be offered at any one time. All cows are weighed twice daily, following each milking.

  • Individual intake monitoring to record intakes of individual cows from birth through to adulthood: 58 ‘controlled access feed boxes’ allowing intakes of up to 170 individual cows to be monitored at any one time and a further 26 ‘controlled access feed boxes’ in the youngstock house which can be used to record intakes and behaviour from weaning until heifers calve for the first time.
  • Dairy cow concentrates can be offered either in-parlour, via out-of-parlour feeding systems, or in the form of a Total Mixed Ration. Total mixed ration and out-of-parlour feeding solutions are also available within the youngstock accommodation. During the calf stage, milk and concentrate feeding can be conducted via an individual pen system, computerised feeders or group feeders
  • Individual animal precision in-field concentrate feeding system for grazing cattle of all ages to include monitoring of animal liveweight and intake
  • Individual forage and concentrate intake monitoring from birth through to adulthood. Detailed monitoring of animal grazing and behaviour through pedometers and rumination halters
  • On site feed mill for production of specialist diets
  • Range of thermal imaging technologies, including a fully automated system that acquires highly standardized thermal images of dairy cows as they come off the milking parlour.


Better management of grasslands to ensure animals convert grass into milk in an efficient and sustainable manner. Profitable and sustainable farm systems with improved youngstock rearing regimes to enhance health, welfare and lifetime performance.

Supporting the Grand Challenges facing livestock food production:

Climate Smart Food Systems

Resource Efficiency & Precision Nutrition

Health & Welfare Management

AFBI Opithouse | CIEL

Automated Calf Monitoring

AFBI Opithouse | CIEL


How clean is your house? The Optihouse project is seeking to increase the efficiency of feed and labour within calf rearing enterprises by optimising the rearing environment and calf management. The research will help inform best practice and refine calf rationing systems to better reflect performance under a range of environmental conditions.

Precision Grassland Platform

Enabling detailed studies of the grazing environment, testing new innovations in grassland management and tracking the interactions from the soil, through the plant to the animal and the resultant meat and milk produced. A better understanding of these interactions will drive improvements in both productivity and environmental sustainability. Highly instrumented, technology and data driven, the platform provides:

  • 78ha of “connected landscape” within 310ha grassland farm 
  • Live data feed from weather and soil sensors to give a comprehensive view of the key components of the grassland ecosystem and their interactions
  • Network of wireless relay towers feed data back from the grazing environment every 15 minutes day and night
  • Range of aerial drones including NDVI and hyperspectral imaging technology
  • Providing trial facilities under commercially relevant conditions.
  • The research facilities are additionally supported by an extensive range of sensor, scanning and performance monitoring technologies.