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The challenge

Pasture intake data is vital to productivity gains

Production efficiency in the grass-fed beef sector is a key focus for the industry's transformation. It provides the most cost effective way to grow production and profitability whilst achieving reduced greenhouse gas emissions intensity.

In the livestock sector, efficiency can be measured as a ratio of inputs to outputs, or as feed consumed to kilograms of meat produced or calves weaned. However, on-farm productivity gains by the grass fed beef sector have been static at approximately 0.5 per cent per annum for the past 15 years. To maintain international competitiveness the on-farm sector needs to lift productivity gain to around 2.5 per cent per annum.

Two possible solutions to this problem are the development of breeding strategies to identify animals with genetically superior feed efficiency, or the application of advanced livestock management strategies based on accurate, real-time information on animal performance. These can both be achieved by measuring intake of pasture by individual cattle in the grazing environment. However, this has previously been a difficult and time consuming process, which has prevented measurement on a scale required to obtain meaningful data.

Our response

Real-time data on a mass scale

CSIRO in collaboration with the NSW Department of Primary Industries has developed the eGrazor – a device that determines pasture intake by cattle based on behavioural information.

The solar powered system's sensors are worn by grazing livestock, and collect real-time behavioural data that can be interpreted to inform management strategies for sustainable livestock production systems.

eGrazor fitted to cattle at our Armidale research station

The device houses algorithms that provide estimates of some base cattle behaviours. Namely, the amount of time cattle spend grazing, ruminating and resting, walking and performing other behaviours. The estimates are in minutes and transmitted daily.

Operation of the system requires minimal labour, and once deployed the cattle are free to return to their grazing environment.

The results

Accelerated production opportunities

The eGrazor approach offers new opportunities to efficiently collect data to measure and define novel traits in cattle.

These behaviour classification algorithms are currently based on data collected from a set of research projects that took place at our livestock research stations in Armidale NSW and Townsville Qld. The reported results are accurate for these grazing environments but the ability of these to generalise across other areas (involving different cattle breeds or pasture types) is yet to be determined.

However, we wanted to make this early version available to industry to allow them to be part of the discussion as the technology develops and improves.

This type of pasture feed intake information is a first in a commercial product for free-ranging grazing livestock and in 2023 is about providing food for thought for cattle producers.

The ear tags do not directly provide an estimate of methane production. However, this figure can be calculated from the daily behaviour reports and provided to owners by third-party software providers.

Successful adoption of this technology will improve the precision of nutritional and other management strategies, and accelerate the rate of genetic gain for feed efficiency in grazing cattle.

Ceres Tags smart ear tags for livestock now have the additional ability to use eGrazor’s behavioural information to estimate a daily pasture intake value for cattle. This function was developed by CSIRO in partnership with NSW DPI.

Find out about Ceres Tag smart ear tags for livestock.

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