December 20, 2023
Youran Animal Husbandry's high-tech ranch hints at quality of China's 'unmanned' dairy production
Inner Mongolia Youran Animal Husbandry, the world's biggest raw milk producer, is highly integrated with a business that extends to feed production, calf production and breeding, dairy cattle farming and China's largest e-trading platform for the animal husbandry supply chain.
The only company in the country that covers the entire upstream dairy industry chain, Youran has 78 self-operated farms in 16 Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions and raises nearly 500,000 dairy cows.
The main factor behind Youran's success is the high automation of its farms — the company has built the Chilechuan Ecological Smart Ranch, an intelligent, low-carbon ranch fitted with modern equipment, including robots for automated milking, feeding, feed mixing and manure cleaning. Driven by the employment of artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoTs) and big data systems, the Inner Mongolia-based ranch is equipped to keep 12,000 dairy cows and produces about 84,000 tonnes of fresh milk per year upon full operation.
Currently, there appears to be no other farming model, domestically or abroad, that can completely rival the technical strengths of the Chilechuan Ecological Smart Ranch. Indeed, its establishment also signals the Chinese dairy industry's progress into the era of "unmanned" cattle production.
With the influx of industrial capital, the scale of dairy farming in China has rapidly expanded in recent years. Data showed that the proportion of large-scale farms with more than 100 cows in the country had reached 72% in 2022, an increase of two percentage points compared with 2021 (and a 40 percentage point hike compared with 2012, which spurred the formation of many ‘one-stop' enterprises, both upstream and downstream).
Along with expansion, the industrialisation and corporatisation of the dairy industry have laid the foundation for driving technological advancement. For example, Mengniu Dairy has installed unmanned milking robots and feeding robots at some of its farms. Yili also started projects at its farms to integrate IoT and precision management through big data analysis. Even smaller dairy companies all over China are piloting or experimenting with smart dairy farms and automated management.
The main reasons behind such moves have to do with the shortages of land and pasture resources. That said, China's AI advancement over the years has achieved world-leading standards, providing the base for the application of the technology in the Chinese husbandry sector.
- David Lim, eFeedLink