TU Wien Informatics

20 Years

Launch of Doctoral College on Precision Livestock Farming

  • 2024-02-29

PLFDoc answers the growing societal demand for ethically sustainable livestock farming to improve animal welfare.

Daniel Brunner (FH OÖ), Daniela Klein-Jöbstl (Vetmeduni), Viktoria Dorfer (FH OÖ), Michael Iwersen (Vetmeduni), Margrit Gelautz (TU Wien), Stephan Winkler (FH OÖ), Elisabeth Mayrhuber (FH OÖ) (fltr).
Daniel Brunner (FH OÖ), Daniela Klein-Jöbstl (Vetmeduni), Viktoria Dorfer (FH OÖ), Michael Iwersen (Vetmeduni), Margrit Gelautz (TU Wien), Stephan Winkler (FH OÖ), Elisabeth Mayrhuber (FH OÖ) (fltr).
Picture: Dominik Kiss / VetmedUni

Animal products are our staple food. But they come at a high price: Concerns for animal welfare, pollution, and unhealthy additives in animal husbandry occupy farmers and consumers alike. The new doctoral program PLFDoc – Precision Livestock Farming focuses on digital technologies in veterinary medicine to improve animal well-being, health, and the management of farm animals. At a kick-off event on December 7, 2023, international partners came together at Vetmeduni to celebrate the start of this one-of-a-kind program.

“Livestock farming poses particular challenges to digital tech,” Margrit Gelautz explains, “stables can be dusty, lighting changes significantly throughout the day, animals move around – that’s why we need to develop new computer vision methods and ways to collect & analyse data that work robustly in such environments. A particularly exciting aspect of our research work is the question of the extent to which conventional methods of animal monitoring – e.g. ear tagging – can be replaced by non-invasive camera recordings and suitable artificial intelligence methods.”

The interdisciplinary training program offers Ph.D. candidates the opportunity to work as a team on contributing to more sustainable agriculture with improved livestock farming. The research focus consists of applied basic research, particularly on the design of methods of Explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI) as well as image and video analysis. The team focuses on cattle and hog farms, specifically on birth monitoring. Vetmeduni Vice Rector Doblhoff-Dier is convinced that “in order to fully use the potential of Precision Livestock Farming, it is necessary to train a new generation of scientists and specialists who have the crucial skills in this area. The joint doctoral programm PLFDoc gives young scientists the opportunity to further specialize in this exciting field.”

“Taking animal health and well-being as the basis to increase farming output is a fantastic concept that benefits farmers, consumers, and society as a whole,” TU Wien Vice Rector Peter Ertl is sure. “Digitalization in farming, however, also means that a variety of sensor technologies first need to be implemented to continuously monitor the health status of livestock. These data need to be validated, transferred, logged, annotated, and analyzed to initiate countermeasures and timely prevention treatments. It is precisely this innovative combination of veterinary sciences with analytic sensing strategies and information technologies that makes this project so special.”

The doctoral college is a collaborative endeavor involving TU Wien Informatics, the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria (Campus Hagenberg), and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. “The University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria is proud to be part of the joint doctoral program PLFDoc,” Viktoria Dorfer, supervisor at UAS Upper Austria states, “especially nowadays, it is particularly important to focus on animal health and to support livestock farming with the help of state-of-the-art sensors and IT.”

Professor for Computer Vision Margrit Gelautz leads the program at TU Wien, with A Min Tjoa and Thomas Neubauer as supervisors. Five Ph.D. students get the opportunity to focus on applied basic research in the field. Three positions have already been filled by Elisabeth Mayrhuber, David Brunner, and Kui Zhao. While being supervised at the respective institutions, doctoral students get access to state-of-the-art infrastructure for practical testing of their new digital technologies at VetFarm.

About PFLDoc

The multidisciplinary focus of the PLFDoc doctoral program aims to train five highly qualified experts in the field of Precision Livestock Farming. The program is running until the end of September 2027. The expertise of the Ph.D.s acquired in this program is intended to meet the growing societal demand for ethically sustainable animal husbandry, improve the welfare and health of livestock, and support farmers in their daily herd management. Find more information here.

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