Feedback thinking in dairy farm management: system dynamics modelling for herd dynamics

A. S. Atzori, B. Atamer Balkan, Antonio Gallo

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in rivistaArticolo in rivistapeer review


Systems perspectives and system dynamics have been widely used in decision-making for agricultural problems. However, their use in dairy farm management remains limited. This work demonstrates the use of systems approaches and feedback thinking in modelling for dairy farm management. The application of feedback thinking was illustrated with causal loop and stock-and-flow diagrams to disentangle the complexity of the relationship among farm elements. The study aimed to identify the dynamic processes of an intensive dairy farm by mapping the animal stocks (e.g., heifers, lactating cows, dry cows) with the final objective of anticipating the expected milk deliveries over a long time period. The project was conducted for a reference dairy farm that was intensively managed with a herd size of >2 500 cattle heads, which provided monthly farm records from Jan 2016 to Dec 2019. Model development steps included: (i) problem articulation with farm interviews and data analysis; (ii) the development of a dynamic hypothesis and a causal loop diagram; (iii) the development of a stock-and-flow cattle model describing ageing chains of heifers and cows and subsequent calibration of the model parameters; (iv) the evaluation of the model based on lactating cows and milk deliveries against farm historical records; and (v) the analysis of the model results. The model characterized the farm dynamics using three main feedback loops: one balancing loop of culling and two reinforcing loops of heifers’ replacement and cows’ pregnancy, pushing milk delivery. The model reproduced the historical oscillation patterns of lactating cows and milk deliveries with high accuracy (root mean square percentage error of 2.8 and 5.2% for the number of lactating cows and milk deliveries, respectively). The model was shown to be valid for its purpose, and applications of this model in dairy farm management can support decision-making practices for herd composition and milk delivery targets.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)N/A-N/A
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2023


  • Feedback loops
  • Heifers
  • Milk delivery
  • Lactating cows
  • Herd composition


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