They Are What They Eat

February 7, 2017 11:31 am

New research being conducted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the Armidale CSIRO aims to be able to track levels of cattle feed consumption in a pasture environment.

This exciting new technology monitors the individual animal’s behaviour in order to estimate feed intake. The solar powered devices (worn as a collar) are able to constantly measure behaviours such as grazing, walking, drinking, resting, and ruminating, and wirelessly transmit the data in real time. The data gathered from the devices is correlated against benchmark measurements of feed intake in order to derive a prediction algorithm that estimates the individual animal’s feed intake.

Ultimately, this technology measures the feed conversion efficiency in individual animals. While it’s been possible for a long time to measure output (e.g kg/day weight gain), the ability to measure the amount of feed required to achieve that particular result has not been possible in a pasture fed environment. The use of testing stations in feedlots has been able to gain this data for some years, however achieving this in a pasture fed environment has not been accomplishable prior to these tech developments.

By being able to measure feed conversion efficiency in individual animals, the end goal is for graziers to be able to identify superior performing animals as well as those that under-perform, to enable the genetic selection of high performing cattle to strengthen the herd, while eliminating poorer performing members. This will ultimately lead to the development of more efficient grazing herds, and as feed is one of the major costs of cattle production, a small increase in efficiency can have a large impact on the profitability of the enterprise.

“We want to get to a point where we can identify superior performing animals, regardless of whether feed is at its peak, or haying off and looking sparse.” Says Dr Drewe Ferguson of the CSIRO.

The ongoing development of wireless sensor networks by the CSIRO is offering new and revolutionary ways to make various aspects of farming more efficient. While this grazing monitoring technology is currently still being developed, Dr Ferguson has said that it should be ready for commercial delivery within the next 12 to 18 months.

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