Technology is changing the face of northern beef production


Livestock management can be made easier – and cheaper – with digital tracking technology. Flickr / Jim Bendon, CC BY-SA

Raising cattle in northern Australia can be difficult, especially in times of drought, but producers are increasingly turning to digital technologies to help them manage their herds.

As these new technologies become more and more important in beef farming, we need to change the way we think about training people for the grazing industries of northern Australia. We need to start by teaching people working in traditional agricultural industries how to better use new technologies and create more opportunities for people in IT and other high tech sectors.

Will Wilson is a cattle breeder from central Queensland and founder of a company that is developing an app called iHerd.

Will spoke about his app at a recent conference and agricultural innovation and he spoke about how a growing group of livestock managers around the world are now downloading and using his app.

His presentation took place at the Belmont Research and Education Center, located a half hour drive north of Rockhampton in central Queensland. Will certainly looked at the house on the cattle property with his big boots and his big belt.

Knowing that Will was a real cattle rancher, I wasn’t sure how he was going to give a tech talk. Belmont’s setup had posed some technical challenges for previous reviewers – an old laptop can be finicky at the best of times.

But Will got up, took his smartphone out of his pocket and connected to the projector without problem via Bluetooth. He then proceeded to smoothly read his presentation using interactive slides he had prepared on his smartphone.

He explained how the app allows a producer to track and monitor livestock herds as they move around the farm, allowing farmers to effectively track management interventions such as animal health issues.

Will represents a growing number of northern cattle producers who are engaging in the development and use of digital technologies to enable precise livestock management in extensive and complex cattle production systems.

The beef production systems of northern Australia have traditionally been low input. CSIRO image.

In general, the cattle production systems of the North require few inputs and the herding of cattle is expensive. Producers therefore aim to minimize the number of times livestock must pass through a set of yards.

On properties that have well-managed watering points, it is possible to set up livestock yards with one-way gates or lance traps at the waterer. When the cattle come to drink at the trough, they can be held in the yards.

This system has traditionally been used to reduce recruiting costs.

The digital farm

The Cooperative Research Center for Remote Economic Participation (CRC-REP) worked on a project that links automated surveillance using electronic identification tags that are attached to livestock.

When the cattle come to the water, they pass through a set of scales and, using sophisticated weighing algorithms, their weight and electronic identification is recorded.

Weigh-in-pass automatically records the weight of the cattle each time they enter the water. CSIRO image.

The work of the CRC-REP project is being developed and refined to incorporate a drafting system that not only enables automated cattle tracking but also automatic management, selecting animals that meet a predefined weight range.

Since the introduction of Brahman cattle to northern Australia, central Queensland has provided a testing ground for new and emerging beef cattle technologies.

Belmont Cattle Station is an AgForce owned cattle station that has long supported the latest scientific research on beef cattle.

AgForce in central Queensland has now partnered with my university to allow the property to be further developed to support emerging research and most importantly to link directly to education and training activities.

Our research into precise livestock management has established a network of wireless sensors to monitor and track the location and movement of livestock across the property.

Researchers are working to develop real-time data processing algorithms that can be used to determine the reproductive status, health and productivity of livestock.

Technology that allows farmers to automatically monitor their livestock means they’ll be able to collect more information with less effort. Linking the information to automatic management systems will further reduce the time farmers spend working with livestock.

Accurate livestock management data systems will require farmers able to grasp the benefits of large, complex data sets. Management technology that can manage livestock.

Farmers of the future will need to be more tech savvy. CSIRO image.

Agricultural training programs must equip the next generation of farmers with the skills to capitalize on the benefits of digitally activated automated monitoring and management systems.

Maintaining and supporting computer hardware platforms with a dedicated farming application is a big step forward from just setting a power budget.

Ironically, the unique challenges of operating electronics in remote and rugged locations may well mean that a wider range of industries will be looking to recruit the next generation of agriculture graduates.

As farmers acquire and apply new technical skills, these skills could end up being used by a wider range of industries. Wider adoption of agriculture-derived innovation may well lead to a more agriculture-oriented nation.

The conversation

Dave Swain receives funding from Meat and Livestock Australia. He is affiliated with CQUniversity and represents CQUniversity at the Northern Australian Beef Research Council.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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