A HAND-HELD microwave-based technology that can non-invasively measure fat depth on live cattle and sheep as well as carcases is being developed for several other key traits.
The system could be available for broader commercial use by late next year after further road-testing in beef and lamb supply chains.
The system’s device is being trialled by Murdoch University researchers within the Commonwealth-funded ALMTech project (www.almtechau.com) to also include measurements for intramuscular fat percentage, as well as CT Fat pc, CT Lean pc and CT Bone pc.
Two of Murdoch University’s senior research engineers Dr Jayaseelan Marimuthu and Venkata Pamarla, demonstrated the system at the recent Australian Meat Processor Corporation Innovation Showcase in Melbourne.
Mr Pamarla said the system has been used successfully on live lambs and cattle and that accreditation from the Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards Committee (AMILSC) would be sought in coming months to measure GR tissue depth in sheep carcases.
The method has already shown to be easy to calibrate, it operates at chain speed (about one second per measurement), has water-proof and dust-proof switches, and is made with food-safe plastic.
Dr Marimuthu developed the first prototype and was awarded the Most Innovative Research at the August 2018 International Congress of Meat Science and Technology (ICoMST), after having initially used microwave technology to detect tumors in the brain and for breast cancer.
ALMTech chief investigator, Professor Graham Gardner said the hand-held microwave system uses low power non-ionizing electromagnetic waves.
“Since biological tissues in animals feature a high contrast in the dielectric properties (skin, fat, muscle and bone) at microwave frequencies, this system can accurately evaluate the fat depth and body composition of carcases and live animals.
“Machine learning algorithms take the microwave signals detected and construct predictions that have shown excellent precision and accuracy particularly for predicting C-site fat depth and GR tissue depth during validation experiments,” he said.
In live lambs and sheep, the microwave system has shown good capacity to predict C-site fat depth, GR tissue depth, and whole body fat composition of live ewes. The fat depth measures correspond well to their subsequent slaughter measurements. Professor Gardner said.
Potential uses with stock buyers and feedlots
Prof. Gardner said although not yet commercially available, it is expected that the device may interest stock buyers and large feedlot enterprises.
“However, in the first instance we are likely to focus on roll-out in abattoirs.
“Its use for reliable lamb or sheep condition scoring is definitely one possible deployment, although it may not be practical for individual farmers to own one. On-farm, the low-cost affordability and portability of the technology becomes crucial, given that farms generally cannot achieve the same economy of scale as abattoirs,” he said.
The full commercial cost is not yet known.
Working toward commercial availability by late 2023
Prof. Gardner said the microwave team at Murdoch University has constructed a hand-held microwave prototype suitable for commercial use.
“This prototype incorporates a precision-cut VPA antenna design, a robust splash-proof outer shell, and the latest calibration system.
“It is compact in size and has a long battery life,” he said.
“The team is confident that these design iterations will now enable consistent predictions across every device deployed at any location in Australia.
“As such, the team is attempting AUS-MEAT accreditation for GR tissue depth and the brand-new lamb composition traits of carcase Fat%, Lean%, and Bone%,” Prof. Gardner said.
“This work is being undertaken with fantastic support from Dardanup Butchering Company (DBC) in Bunbury and WAMMCO in Katanning, both in Western Australia.
“These are ideal test-sites, with DBC a smaller, multi-species processor and WAMMCO a larger, high-throughput lamb processor. Commercial road-testing is the team’s current focus, within both beef and lamb supply chains,” he said.
“Assuming success in this next phase of testing we expect to see broader commercial availability by the end of 2023.”
Environmental engineer and innovation manager Manikiran Kaur Virk saw the tool demonstrated at the showcase and she can see the potential of the microwave system for assessing livestock.