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Exploring advancements in cow comfort and sustainable dairy practices in Saudi Arabia

December 7, 2023
Andrew Oddy on stage at Alltech ONE Dubai

Andrew Oddy is the herds director for the farming operations of Al Safi Danone, a leading dairy brand that has become a household name in Saudi Arabia.

How are climate challenges shaping the future of Saudi Arabia’s dairy industry? Join Andrew Oddy, herds director at Al Safi Danone, as he shares insights on the Ag Future podcast from #AlltechONE Dubai. With over four decades of expertise, Andrew delves into the region’s progress and how feed efficiency, renewable energy and artificial intelligence are playing a major role in the future of dairy sustainability and profitability.

The following is an edited transcript of the Ag Future podcast episode with Andrew Oddy hosted by Tom Martin. Click below to hear the full audio or listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts.

Tom:                       I’m Tom Martin, and joining me from the United Arab Emirates at the Alltech ONE World Tour stop in Dubai is Andrew Oddy, whose impressive career spans nearly four decades working with some of the world’s largest dairy farms in the Middle East and Africa, co-authoring published papers on heat stress, cow comfort, and milking in collaboration with Kansas State University and Arizona State University in the U.S. Today, Andrew serves as the herds director for the farming operations of Al Safi Danone, a leading dairy brand that has become a household name in Saudi Arabia. Welcome to the podcast, Andrew. 


Andrew:                  Thank you very much.


Tom:                       Your extensive career in the dairy industry is truly remarkable. And considering that wealth of experience, could you give us an overview of the major changes that you’ve witnessed in herd management throughout your nearly four-decade career? 


Andrew:                  Well, it’s not just the herd management, it’s the whole aspect of Saudi Arabia, because when I came to Saudi Arabia first, it was 1982. And there were very little structures in Riyadh and especially Al Kharj. So the dairy industry in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia at that time, nobody really knew what the aspects were, what the challenges were, and it was a very steep learning curve that we went through to develop cow comfort to the extent that we have developed it now. And even now, we’re still learning new techniques, new ways of doing things. So it is a challenge all the time, and it’s a learning curve for everybody in the industry in the Gulf region at the present time.


Tom:                       As the dairy industry in the UAE experiences significant growth, what are some key differences in running a dairy operation in the UAE compared to more established dairy regions like the United States or Ireland? 


Andrew:                  The dairy industry only really started in the Middle East around the 1975 era. So dairy farming in the West, in the United States and Europe, has been developed for many hundred years. So we were learning really from Stage 1, the heat is a big factor for us in Saudi Arabia. And over the last three years, we have been experiencing high humidity due to the changing climate as well. And humidity is really a killer compared to the heat. The dry heat everybody can handle. But when you get dry heat and humidity with temperature THI of around about 90 to 100, then it is really hot. 


Tom:                       Well, with COP28, the 28th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, now underway in Dubai, and the global push for emissions reduction outlined in the Paris Agreement, how has the dairy industry evolved to contribute to the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees?


Andrew:                  This year, we’ve experienced a 2°C increase in temperature over the June, July, August, September period. As I said, the dry heat is something we can cope with, but the dairy industry itself in the Middle East is moving to give a good carbon footprint reduction in the area. Like with Al Safi, we’re looking at biogas solutions. We’re looking at solar panels to reduce the use of fossil fuels. There are also ways that we’re looking at controlling the cows to reduce their emittance as well. So everybody is working really hard now in the dairy industry in the Middle East to achieve the goals that have been set upon us. I mean, I work for Al Safi Danone. Danone made a statement that in six years’ time, they want to reduce the carbon emissions by at least 30% in all their enterprises. 


Tom:                       These sustainability efforts vary across regions. What specific challenges do you encounter in your role at Al Safi Danone, and what technologies are being implemented to address these challenges in the pursuit of sustainability and efficiency as well? 


Andrew:                  All our cattle is genomically tested to find out exactly what the potentials are. There’s also a new test that is coming through on the genomics now where we can test through the tissues how much methane is going to be emitted from the cows and which are the superior cows which will emit waste methane, to come into the dairy herd and try and reduce this.


                               We’re using different technologies. There’s some feed now that is on the market which can give up to a 30% reduction in remittance as well. 


Tom:                       While sustainability is a crucial focus, profitability remains essential. Can you shed light on the role that feed efficiency plays in ensuring the profitability of dairy operations, considering the various sustainability practices in place?


Andrew:                  Over the last four years, we’ve reduced our feed wastage by nearly 4%. If you take the American average of 10%, we’re between 5% and 6% at the present time. And we still have a ways to go where we can reduce it more if the conditions are right.


Tom:                       Artificial intelligence is permeating various industries. How has AI found its way onto the dairy farm, and in what ways is it impacting or optimizing operations within Al Safi Danone?


Andrew:                  We have some new technology, which is, we’re the only dairy farm in the world outside the U.S. which is using this technology at the moment, which is a camera ID system. It used to be called Compass. Now it’s got a new name, Evergreen. And we have it set up in one unit, and it’s doing facial ID and number ID of the cattle that it’s monitoring. And this is a new way of looking at how management can improve and come and get the best out of this system. So this system at the moment is very new. It’s still in development, but it tells us the feeding times of the cows, when the operator will feed, when he pushes up the feed, if there is any empty space on the bunk that needs to have additional feed. This is all done through the camera system.


                               In the future, it will give us a lot more help on animal welfare and health. It will be able to monitor or inform us of cows, sick cows, cows that are going to calve. And the latest piece of technology coming out of this is that within 24 hours of the cow coming to estrus, we’ll have information, and we can nail that cow and get her in calf hopefully very quickly and improve our conception and fertility.


Tom:                       This sounds very interesting. Perhaps we can circle back around later in the year and find out how things have gone with this technology. 


Andrew:                  Yes, we can. No problem. 


Tom:                       Andrew Oddy, herds director at Al Safi Danone in Saudi Arabia. Thank you so much, Andrew. 


Andrew:                  You are welcome. Thank you. Take care.