Challenges and Solutions for Livestock Management in the UAE

May 09, 2024 | Agribusiness

Leveraging Data Analytics to Optimize Animal Welfare and Profit

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the greater MENA region are making strides in modernizing the agricultural sector, including livestock management.

Despite being a region with limited natural agricultural resources, the UAE is exploring innovative solutions to optimize livestock production. This article examines the challenges of livestock farming, identifies the problems faced in the UAE, and explores both governmental and technological solutions aimed at sustainability and efficiency.

What is meant by livestock farming?

Livestock farming involves the breeding, raising, and management of animals to produce food, fiber, and other products.

This sector includes cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and poultry. It is a vital component of agriculture that not only contributes to food security but also to economic stability in many regions.

What does factory farming mean for the animals?

Factory farming refers to industrial operations where a large number of livestock are reared in confined spaces to maximize production at minimal cost.

This method often prioritizes efficiency over the welfare of the animals, leading to criticisms that its treatment of livestock is unethical. Common issues of concern include inadequate space, limited access to outdoor environments, and high stress living conditions.

Top 5 Challenges in Livestock Management in UAE

As a region, the UAE and MENA experiences several significant challenges that other more temperate climates do not. Here are the five most significant issues livestock farms face:

Harsh Climatic Conditions

The extreme temperatures and arid conditions in the UAE pose significant challenges to livestock health and productivity. Heat stress can lead to reduced reproductive efficiency and increased vulnerability to diseases.

Recent studies have shown that climate change is likely to exacerbate this problem, with one study reporting that a global average temperature rise of just 2% would increase the number of heat stress days experienced by livestock from around 30 to 180 in subtropical climates.

Water Scarcity

Water is a critical resource for livestock, yet it is scarce in the UAE. The reliance on desalination plants and recycled water underscores the need for efficient water management practices in livestock farming.

One solution proposed is to begin to grow salt-tolerant plants for animal feed, including saltwater couch, desert saltgrass and other grasses. This would require less desalination, saving money and energy.

Soil Salinity and Limited Arable Land

High soil salinity and limited fertile land restrict the growth of feed crops, making it difficult to maintain sustainable feed supply chains for livestock. Again, using crops that tolerate a high soil content might help solve this difficulty if it can be made economically viable.

Disease Management and Biosecurity

The hot and humid climate of the UAE makes livestock susceptible to various diseases. Effective biosecurity measures are essential to prevent the outbreak and spread of infectious diseases.

Here, innovative AI, IoT and data analytic systems can be used to provide early warnings of infection, reducing the need for antibiotics, and thus reducing antibiotic waste. One cutting-edge trial used bio-capsules ingested by the animals to monitor gut health and send back signals using IoT transmitters.

Economic Sustainability and Market Fluctuations

Fluctuations in global markets affect the prices of livestock products and feed, impacting the economic viability of farming operations in the region.

Markets are of course affected by supply chain issues and political instability, a significant recent issue being the Houthi rebel attacks in the Red Sea affecting the price of feed additives.

How can the situation be improved?

A combination of greater self-sufficiency and more secure import and supply lines will being more dependable livestock resources to the UAE and MENA region. A continuing focus on sustainable agriculture, including the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority’s strategic plan and the UAE Green Agenda 2015-2030 will continue to drive change.

Here are some of the key improvements being made to encourage the region towards a secure, sustainable livestock future:

Providing Better Living Conditions

Improving livestock living conditions by offering adequate space and better housing can enhance animal welfare and productivity.

These conditions can be monitored by robot and IoT devices, sending vital data back to HQ so that welfare and animal health can be optimized.

Promoting Social Behavior

Grouping animals appropriately can reduce stress and promote natural social behaviors, which are crucial for their psychological well-being.

There has been a consumer push towards free range and organically-sourced meats, which require pro-social conditions for the necessary certifications.

Outdoor Exercise and Movement

Such trends also necessitate a less “battery farm” approach to living conditions for livestock. Facilitating outdoor exercise and sufficient movement opportunities can significantly improve the health and welfare of the animals.

Daylight and Structured Environments

Just like humans, livestock function better when their days are structured and follow the natural cycles of day and night.

Structured environments that mimic natural conditions, including adequate daylight exposure, are beneficial for the animals' circadian rhythms and overall health.

How does livestock farming affect climate change?

Livestock farming significantly contributes to climate change through methane emissions, land degradation, and excessive water use. Implementing sustainable practices is crucial to mitigate these impacts.

Here we’ll look at some potential solutions to the challenges of sustainable farming in a changing climate.

Impact of Technology and Sustainability Efforts

1: Adoption of Smart Farming Technologies

Technologies such as precision farming and IoT-based monitoring systems can enhance productivity and sustainability in livestock management. Data analytics allows farmers to optimize feed levels, water usage, and waste management.

2: Waste Management and Recycling Practices

Effective waste management systems and the recycling of livestock by-products can reduce environmental impact and promote sustainability. A reduction in antibiotic waste, manure slurry, and methane all contribute to improved CO2 emission targets.

Government Initiatives and Policies

Government Support and Subsidies

The UAE government provides subsidies and support for sustainable livestock practices, aiming to reduce the carbon footprint of farming operations.

Legislation and Environmental Policies

Environmental regulations and policies ensure that livestock farming adheres to sustainability standards and practices.

Food Security Strategies

The UAE government has implemented strategies aimed at increasing self-sufficiency and reducing reliance on imported livestock products.

Take Aways

Livestock management can be improved by integrating advanced technologies, improving animal welfare, and adopting sustainable farming practices. Innovative UAE initiatives to support these moves include investments in agri-tech, subsidies for farmers, and policies aimed at boosting local production.

Ongoing challenges include harsh climatic conditions, water scarcity, and soil issues. However, hydroponic feed production can reduce water usage and provide fresh, nutritious feed for livestock in arid regions like the UAE. Government policies support sustainable livestock management through funding, regulatory frameworks, and strategic plans focusing on sustainability and technological adoption.

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