SmartBeef 2023: The rise and rise of feedlot bunk scanning

James Nason, 18/10/2023

Dr Stuart McCarthy from Manabotix and Phil Lambert from Teys Condamine feedlot at the SmartBeef 2023 event at Killara Feedlot last week.

More than one in 10 cattle on feed in Australia now have an automated bunk scanner contributing to their feed allocation process, ALFA’s SmartBeef 2023 event was told last week.

And the trend only looks set to grow, with recent trials showing fully automated bunk management can achieve the same performance results as a highly skilled bunk caller with no negative impacts on health and relevant carcase outcomes observed.

A file picture of a Manabotix feed bunk scanner in action during a feedlot trial.

Updates on the progress of semi- and fully-automated bunk scanning technology were provided at SmartBeef by Dr Stuart McCarthy of robotic solutions provider Manabotix and Phil Lambert, general manager of Teys Condamine feedlot, which has been using the technology since 2019.

The 30,000 head Teys Condamine feedlot has a long history of early adoption of new technology including shade structures, steam flaking and batch boxes.

The feedlot began validation trials using the Manabotix bunk scanner in 2018 and became the first feedlot in Australia to commit to the technology the following year.

Mr Lambert said there were several reasons why Teys invested in a bunk scanner, which included accuracy and consistency in predicting feed remaining in bunks, which helped to prevent wastage, and the technology’s value as a training tool for new bunk callers.

“We find it is a bit of a support network for new people coming in,” he said.

“You have got to take the training wheels off sometimes, and it is a safety net that can build confidence when they move out into the yard.”

Only a very small group of people were skilled in the “artistry” of bunk calling, feed milling and pen riding, he said, and “those people can’t be everywhere”.

“Having this as a support tool with the option of moving to a fully automated system, we’re not taking away that role, but we can at times utilise the staff that we may have on hand to cover these roles,” Mr Lambert said.

“That is one of the reasons we have made that investment with a view to migrating over time.”

Asked what problems Teys Condamine has experienced with the technology, Mr Lambert said a lack of local connectivity had been a challenge, but the Manabotix team had found a solution using UHF.

Technology creator Stuart McCarthy told the field day that it is not a one size fits all technology and the company usually encountered different challenges at different sites.

“We know if we ask 10 lot feeders what they want we will probably get 10 different answers,” he said.

He said the technology is now in use in five large feedlots in Australia contributing to the feeding of about 150,000 head every day.

“It is starting to get significant, almost one in eight cattle in Australia on grain now has some level of automation involved in the feeding process, and very, very soon those numbers will rise.”

Dr McCarthy told Beef Central the company also has two bunk scanners operating in the Texas panhandle in the United States.



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