Empowering producers through precision livestock management research

Dave Swain - Featured image

The challenge facing the North Australian beef industry remains the same as it did a century ago: identifying superior genetics which can thrive in harsh and remote environmental conditions, with limited human intervention.

CQUniversity’s Precision Livestock Management (PLM) team is making that happen. Recognised as the national leader in the field of tropical livestock research and based in the Beef Capital of Rockhampton, our PLM research team is leading the way in the development of automated livestock management systems designed to provide graziers with all the information they need without leaving the homestead.

What is an Automated Livestock Management Systems?

Automated livestock management systems (ALMS) bring together a range of sensors to capture vital information about the wellbeing and productivity of cattle, such as birth date, weight, and reproductive performance.

ALMS include walk-over-weigh scales, vision recognition cameras, and water meters, all linked to a paddock-based computer which analyses data to reveal the key information needed to make more informed management decisions.

This can be transmitted via a range of telecommunications systems – mobile, wifi, UHF and satellite – and presented to farmers on a phone, tablet or laptop.

The integration of these sensors into a single, practical ALMS unit has been led by the CQUniversity Precision Livestock Management team.

Walk over Weighing

‘It’s all about linking biology with technology and connecting cows to the cloud’.

Cows and calves at Belmont Station quickly learned to use a Walk-over-Weighing (WoW) system which allowed automatic collection of their unique electronic ear-tag identification using RFID technology as they passed a reader and body weight as they walked across a weigh platform on their daily trips to a watering point.

The hardware enables cattle producers to record performance and genetic information on their animals without the need for mustering and conventional weighing.

Weights and identities are captured automatically with all data processed locally, with key information then transmitted to a remote server to be displayed on the new DataMuster app developed by CQUniversity.

The order the cattle come to water (referred to by scientists as the temporal sequence) can also accurately reveal important reproductive information, such as maternal parentage as calves follow their mothers to the trough.

CCTV in progress

In addition to the RFID tags, images of the cattle are recorded by a camera mounted above the weigh scales and triggered as each RFID is read.

Vision recognition software has been developed to provide validation of oestrus behaviour by identifying colour coded heat-mount detectors. The system has the potential to be used in future for remote and automatic measurement of other production attributes such as parasite resistance, frame size, body condition and scrotal size in young bulls.

Automated measurement of maternal parentage and the date of calving presents a non-invasive, labour saving method of measuring key reproductive attributes.

CQUniversity is the official higher education and research partner for Beef Australia 2018. Beef Australia is the cattle industry’s national exposition and largest event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. It is held just once every three years in Australia’s beef capital, Rockhampton.

Prof. Dave Swain’s research activities are focussed on the behavioural ecology of livestock in extensive production systems. In particular, his work aims to obtain a complete picture of how behavioural strategies are used to overcome resource limitations. Understanding the link between environmental drivers and evolutionarily derived behaviours will enable management intervention to compliment innate livestock behavioural preferences.

CQUniversity Australia (https://cqunilife.com)

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