TECHNOLOGY will play a larger role in measuring performance and animal grazing behaviour from paddock to plate during western Queensland’s 2020 Westech Steer Challenge.
Fourteen properties from western Queensland inducted 84 grower cattle (six steers per property) in February, as the 30-week paddock to plate competition gains momentum.
All steers are run under the same conditions with continued tracking of liveweight gains on pasture through to recording feedlot performance and carcase specifications. Prize money and trophies will be awarded across these three categories.
The 2020 competition will be a step above the usual steer challenge as new technologies are being used to capture data and inform decision-making:
- All Challenge steers will pass over a walk-over-weigh unit (donated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) daily
- GPS tracking tags (donated by IDS G Farm) will monitor steer activity and grazing patterns.
- Diet quality is being measured by Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in conjunction with faecal NIRS (Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy) analysis.
NDVI is a satellite imagery tool used to provide a measure of vegetation greenness across Australia (and the world). The NDVI tool calculates reflectance of infrared and near infrared which translates to the level of ‘green’ in a paddock.
Faecal NIRS determines the diet quality (digestibility and protein) and composition (grass vs non grass) of cattle grazing pastures and helps producers foresee liveweight performance issues.
This information allows producers to manage particular groups of cattle or introduce targeted supplementation programs.
Challenge participant Louise Martin from Macfarlane Station said as a Brahman breeder, she was curious to see how her entries performed against traditional British breeds, composites and crossbreds in the Central West, especially in areas like grazing utilisation across the paddock used for the competition, as measured by the GPS tracking tags.
Luke Goldthorpe from MSD Animal Health (Coopers) believes that using the agtech tools, the competition is a great opportunity for producers to “benchmark themselves against others and get a gauge on how their cattle perform.”
“We want to see it continue and grow,” he said.
This year’s challenge is being hosted in a paddock supplied by Ben and Kim Simpson, Thistlebank, Aramac. DAF’s GrazingFutures* team are helping to collect and collate the data and will present the results at this year’s Westech Field Day.
Others supporting the Challenge include Tom Chandler and the Westech Steer Challenge committee; GDL Blackall; Coopers Animal Health, Mort & Co; NAB; and DeHennin Transport.
* GrazingFutures is part of the Queensland Government’s Drought and Climate Adaption Program (DCAP) that aims to improve drought preparedness and resilience for Queensland producers.