Technology change looms in beef production

Improvements seen in identification and tracking animal health; most are connected to new software developments

The technology to improve the beef industry is available and it could help capture more information and improve cattle health.

Some improvements are in identification, tracking animal health and improving productivity.

Most is connected to new software developments, said veterinarian Eric Behlke of Feedlot Health Management Services. Based at Okotoks, Alta., the practice works with clients around the world.

“Software will dramatically disrupt most traditional agricultural industries as we know them at an exponential rate,” he said at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference held recently in Calgary.

Feedlot Health Services has proprietary software in data capture systems to collect information from animals at chute side to better diagnose illness and generate reports. Information on everything the animal does is available and early intervention is possible if data shows anomalies.

Behlke recommends an information system called Herd Trax developed by Alberta veterinarian Troy Drake. All information is entered into a smartphone to create herd records and indexes to make better decisions on each animal’s performance and determine which are superior producers.

Feedlot Health Services is also testing ultra-high frequency ear tags that differ from the low frequency Canadian Cattle Identification Agency tag. High frequency tags have a transmission signal of 900 megahertz compared to low frequency at 134 kilohertz.

The company tested the Identifast UHF tag that can be read from a distance of about five metres. It found signals can be blocked by water or reflected off metal but overall the tag has good potential based on tests run this summer.

Three antennae in a 14-foot-wide (4.3 metre) alley with one overhead and two side panels read 135 tags per second as mobs of calves moved through. There was 100 percent read on individuals while the groups were 97 percent.

“It is a very promising and affordable technology,” he said.

It is an alternative with a wide array of applications but more work is needed to make sure readers are as accurate as they can be.

Using GPS, remote sensors and better ear tags allow cattle to be spotted under various conditions. The company has clients from Alberta’s Peace country to Brazil and Kazakhstan to the Maritimes.

Connecting with producers remotely has tremendous advantages. Cattle health can be monitored and post-mortem services can be provided via a website.

Drones can also be used to locate cattle, check pastures, and check water and crop conditions.

Another technology that contributes to better animal health is an automated dosing gun to administer medication. It is a cordless battery-operated, wifi-connected delivery system. Cattle step on the scale and the software calculates the correct amount of medication for each animal and information attached to the individual’s electronic identification.

“It automatically divides injection doses into maximum 10 millilitre per injection site. There are no missed doses because when paired with our in-house software system, it won’t advance to the next animal until that dose has been administered. It is faster than manually adjusting the dose for each individual animal,” he said.

“It is the embodiment of judicious use of pharmaceutical products and the second is traceability,” he said.

An older form of technology that can add to profitability is the use of growth-promoting implants.

“A growth-promoting implant is the number one technology that gives you your greatest return on investment,” he said.

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