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Adoption starts to grow for walk-over weighing systems

by Beef Central, 13 February 2017
3

A NUMBER of northern family and company-scale beef enterprises have signalled their intention to move into walk-over weighing systems as part of a broader move to precision livestock management.

At the first boardmeeting last week of the new owners of S. Kidman and Co, Hancock Prospecting Group and Shanghai CRED took decisions to invest in walk-over weighing technology, which it said would benefit both staff and livestock. Some of the technology is already in use of Hancock Prospecting’s own northern cattle holdings.

remote-weighing-cattleIn remote, extensive locations, walk-over weighing systems set up on watering points direct cattle  over a set of scales before drinking, enabling their weights to remotely recorded. The system is potentially useful for separating calves of a certain weight from their mothers, or drafting steers reaching a desired liveweight for removal.

Prior to last week’s Kidman boardmeeting, Mrs Rinehart visited Kidman stations, speaking with the managers and sharing with them some of the new technological improvements occurring on the Hancock stations.

This increased investment in technology would involve more training and some cultural change at Kidman, the new owners said. Mrs Rinehart said the decisions were met with ‘great enthusiasm’ from many of the Kidman station managers.

After participating in a series of earlier trials, Pilbara, WA beef producer Murray Grey from Glenflorrie Station also plans to install walk-over weighing systems permanently.

He describes the Precision Pastoral Project in which he had been involved, including walk-over weighing, as ‘a real game-changer’ for extensive grazing enterprises in the north.

A project participant for the past three years, Mr Grey has trialled the walk-over-weighing unit in combination with the satellite imaging system that delivers information on pasture quality verified by animal performance.

“My calculations show this technology could save us upwards of $40,000 a year and the labour component is only a small part of that,” he said.

“The biggest gains come from minimising weight losses. The technology is a more accurate guide to what the country is capable of.”

Learning curve

Mr Grey, whose family has owned Glenflorrie for more than 20 years, said he was shocked at the differences between his visual assessments of livestock condition and pasture and the project data he was receiving.

“I drove down the road past a paddock with cattle in it and thought everything looked okay but the system said they were starting to lose weight,” he said.

“There was still a bulk of feed there but they couldn’t eat enough of it to maintain their bodyweight and my estimate of where they should have been was six weeks out.

“It really caught me on the hop because I hadn’t planned to move them that early.

“By the time I could, they had lost half to a full condition score, which cost us about $15,000. It taught me to be more flexible and to have somewhere to shift cattle to if we need to.”

By being able to access current, constant weight data, Mr Grey also discovered that his cattle lose, on average, 11kg/head when mustered out of the holding paddocks and walked 12km to the yards for drafting.

“That’s weighing them full and trying to look after them as much as we can,” he said. “They lose more weight walking back to paddock.”

Mr Grey said the additional auto-drafting function on the weighing platform could achieve some significant savings.

“By being able to program it to draft animals according to whatever parameters you want, businesses can avoid unnecessary weight losses caused by mustering unwanted animals and by disrupting the mob’s routine,” he said.

The system, which he refers to three or four times a week, also provides early warnings.

“If you’ve got fewer animals crossing the platform it may indicate missing cattle or deaths and, conversely, if there are more cattle crossing it than usual it may indicate animals have got into the paddock and fences need fixing,” he said.

Training

So far, Mr Grey has trained three mobs, totalling about 700 head, to use the weighing platform as an access point to water. The training process usually took about 10 days.

“We start with a wide gap for cattle to access water and then gradually narrow it until they are happy to walk through the race and over the platform,” he said.

In the past three years only three animals have refused to use the platform and Murray said the simple solution was to shift them to another paddock.

Mr Grey can see huge potential for the project to expand its telemetry applications.

“Daily tank level monitoring, for example, could save on labour as well as reduce mortalities,” he said.

 

 

 



Reader's Comments


Comment
  • Michael D'Occhio February 13, 2017

    Associate Professor Luciano Gonzalez at The University of Sydney has led some excellent work on walk-over weighing systems and other new and emerging technologies in extensive beef production and information can be found at: Gonzalez and coworkers (2014) Modelling methane emissions from remotely collected liveweight data and faecal near-infrared spectroscopy in beef cattle (Animal Production Science 54, 1980-1987); and Wireless sensor networks to study, monitor and manage cattle in grazing systems (Animal Production Science 54, 1687-1693).

  • Bill McGuinness February 13, 2017

    If you can’t move them and have plenty of feed, a good protein supplement will go a long way to holding body condition until you can.

  • Dr Rod Thompson February 13, 2017

    As well as a great indicator of the need for supplementation to maintain or slow live weight loss/or move cattle to other paddocks/agist/sell etc, one of the major benefits of systems like this is the separation of calves large enough to wean, reducing significant weight loss in lactating cows, hence enhanced survival/welfare in breeders esp in the dry season, breaking lactational anoestrus, faster/earlier return-to-service and reduced out-of-season calving, All done with out the need for mustering and negative impact on stock off feed when yarded.

    In extensive herds this means more Cast-For-Age cows available for sale in better condition and increased conception rates. Better Body Condition Score (BCS) of cows means more flexibility and options for extensive pastoralist to manage breeder herd and old cows(including trucking) cows to agistment /feedlotting for slaughter).

    While the walk-over weighing and drafting systems have been a long time coming, pastoralists can still use low-tech equipment that can achieve similar results with respect to ‘automatic’ weaning albeit mechanical and cow-powered.

    Back in the late 1980-90’s the Qld DPI ran an AMLRDC funded Automatic Cattle Management project at Qld DPI Swan’s Lagoon Research Station in North Qld. With a few concept inputs a few from DPI staff including Les Wicksteed and myself along the way, David Hirst (of Hirst Spear Trap fame) set to work to turn ideas and concepts into a working prototype of the ‘Cow-Calf Separator’ that was a basically a fancy ‘spear trap’ fitted to the EXIT side of a controlled water yard (to ensure no animals are trapped off water or balk at the separator and not access water – NOTE slow familiarisation training of stock was required.

    This was excellent technology that was way before its time for which David Hirst won an award for farm innovation at the NQ Field Days in 1990.

    Articles and pictures can be found on the web at:
    http://www.futurebeef.com.au/wp-content/uploads/NorthernMuster_Issue28_Jun_1990.pdf (see page 10)

    and
    http://www.futurebeef.com.au/wp-content/uploads/NorthnMuster_Issue22_Dec1988.pdf (see Page 4)

    This system used the concept of ‘preferred vision’ based on the difference in height of the cow (The cow’s Point-Of-View POV) v’s the height of a calf (the calf ‘s Point-Of-View is much lower than the cow (i.e. the cow sees ‘daylight’ one way associate with the ‘cow exit gate’- and the calf sees daylight via a single side of the Hirst Spear trap allow the calf to exit the other direction into a calf yard made of portable panels).

    This system worked really well with near 100% efficacy for drafting off calves. (google Swan’s Lagoon Reports)

    One slight downside of using the cow-calf separator is that when a ‘weaning separation’ day is chosen and the ‘calf’ portable panel yard gate is shut (to prevent the weaners going back to re-join the cows), the owner must draft off and release any calves too small for weaning on that day. An electronic weight-over-the-scales drafting system will hopefully allow smaller calves to continue out with the mother. But like any system, close scrutiny (be it in-person or via live feed video etc) will be needed to ensure correct drafting of the right animals.)

    I look forward to reading more of successes with new (or old) technology that improves monitoring of live-weight and auto-drafting and weaning of calves in the future.

    Dr Rod Thompson BVSc (Hons)

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