Applying Precision Technologies
Panelists share experiences in using smart feeder, individual animal monitoring and virtual fencing technologies.
DES MOINES, IOWA (June 24, 2021) — New precision technologies were a topic of discussion during the 2021 Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium & Convention hosted June 22-25 in Des Moines, Iowa. Three speakers shared their experience with application of three different technologies designed to aid collection of data contributing to genetic selection, monitor animal behavior and manage cattle placement during grazing.
Iowa State University Extension Specialist Patrick Wall explained the use of “smart feeder” technology for research. For his team’s cow-calf studies, the feeder has been used to collect creep feed intake of individual calves. According to Wall, the solar-powered smart feeder reads each calf’s electronic identification tag and allocates an assigned amount of feed. The feeder also records the amount actually consumed and tracks the number and timing of each individual’s visits.
Wall explained how the study involved pairs on pasture or in drylot, with each calf assigned one of three treatments. According to its assignment, each calf visiting the feeder received either 1) no creep feed, 2) up to 2 pounds (lb.) per day, or 3) up to 15 lb. per day.
“There was a lot of variability as to when and how much calves ate, and some calves never went to the feeder,” said Wall, reporting that even for healthy calves with the same or similar weaning weight, intake of creep feed had varied from 0 lb. to 15 lb. per day.
Wall said intake studies were designed to collect and compare creep-feed intake data from calves whose dams have low vs. high expected progeny difference (EPD) values for milk. He believes such studies will help breed associations improve the usefulness of EPDs for genetic selection.
Bruning, Neb., cattleman Reiss Bruning talked about his family’s application of an individual animal monitoring system utilizing electronic eartags and associated computer programs. Such systems track and record animal behaviors — including movement, eating and rumination — to reveal activity trends and alert managers to changes. According to Bruning, their monitoring system aids management of artificial insemination (AI) programs.
“We use it for heat detection mostly, so we can simultaneously synchronize and breed multiple groups,” said Bruning, noting how the monitoring system has saved time devoted to heat detection and reduced the number of false heats detected when using visual heat detection patches alone.
“The system also allows us to monitor postpartum anestrous by showing us when cows return to cycle, and we can monitor the onset of puberty in replacement heifers,” added Bruning.
Virtual fencing technology was addressed by Cody Jorgensen, whose family runs cattle, farming and hunting enterprises near Ideal, S.D. Jorgensen explained how individual animals wear electronic collars that emit an audio signal when the animals come near predetermined virtual boundaries. If any animal continues to approach a boundary, its collar delivers a mild shock similar to that delivered by a traditional electric fence.
Jorgensen described how cattle are trained by first exposing them to virtual boundaries established along existing physical fences. Then, virtual fences are used when cattle graze fields planted to forage crops or cover crops, and areas where building and maintaining physical fences is difficult. He said virtual fences are easily moved for rotational or strip grazing. Virtual fence is also used to keep cattle out of food plots planted for pheasants.
Jorgensen reported problems with first-generation collars used, but the improved version offered better fit and retention. He noted that using collars on 2-year-old bulls was most challenging. Some bulls ignore the warning and the shock, but response is better when animals are trained at a young age.
“We like the concept, and the technology continues to get better,” said Jorgensen. “I think this could be a gamechanger.”
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