Monday, February 26, 2024

New uses for cow wearables trialled in beef herds

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CowManager and Halter both hailed as potential game-changers for sector.
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A monitoring system exploring opportunities to gather more information for Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s genetics beef programme has the potential to be game-changer for NZ beef breeders.

Commonly used on dairy cattle, CowManager wearable cow monitoring systems are being trialled in two South Island beef herds as part of the Informing New Zealand Beef (INZB) programme.

The monitoring trial has the potential to help gather the right science and tools that will enable farmers to produce great tasting meat with a good environmental story while maintaining and improving their production efficiencies, Beef + Lamb NZ (BLNZ) livestock genetics specialist Jason Archer said.

Archer said the programme is exploring whether the technology can provide more detailed information about fertility, particularly in heifers and heifers being re-bred for their second calf.

While CowManager has proven its worth in the dairy industry, to date its use in beef herds has been limited.

The trials are being run with the North Otago Fossil Creek Angus stud herd and the Pāmu Kepler Farm herd, which hosts the BLNZ Genetics beef progeny test near Manapouri in Southland.

Electronic ear-tags monitor a number of variables including grazing, ruminating, walking and temperature. 

The system also has a fertility module, which senses when a cow is cycling and this, in particular, is the information the INZB programme is looking for.

Livestock genetics specialists Jason Archer says wearable technologies have the potential to be a valuable performance recording tool in beef herds.

“It should generate information about the age of puberty, conception dates and critically, when the first post-partum oestrous occurs, so how quickly the heifer can get back in calf after her first calf.”

Archer said while fertility in itself appears to have relatively low heritability, the dairy industry has shown that when broken down into its components, there is more potential to make genetic gain.

In the Fossil Creek Angus herd, 160 yearling heifers and 70 two-year-old cows are wearing the CowManager eartags, while on Pāmu’s Kepler Farm 126 yearling heifers and 54 two-year-old cows will be trialling the tags.

The technology has potential to be game-changer for beef breeding herds.

“As well as collecting the data, the trial is also exploring the use of these types of wearable technologies in beef herds and the value they could potentially provide.

“Dairy farmers find these systems to be quite accurate, so they could be a valuable tool in beef herds, particularly for performance-recorded operations,” Archer said.

The initial trial will run until the end of March 2024 and if successful, it could be expanded to a small number of performance-recorded herds participating in the INZB programme.

Data from the trial will be incorporated into the wearables programme for future recommendations.

The INZB programme is a seven-year Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures partnership supported by BLNZ, the NZ Meat Board and the Ministry for Primary Industries. 

The programme aims to boost the sector’s profits by $460 million over the next 25 years. 

In addition to developing a beef genetic evaluation system that includes traits of importance to NZ’s beef farmers, the programme will also create easy-to-use tools to enable data to be efficiently collected, managed, analysed and used by farmers to make profitable decisions for their operation.

“With the right science and tools, farmers will be able to produce great-tasting meat with a good environmental story while maintaining and improving their production efficiencies,” Archer said.

Meanwhile, virtual fencing provider Halter has launched to beef farmers, enabling transformational pasture grazing practices that directly increase efficiency and productivity. 

The new virtual fencing product, Halter Base, promises to increase pasture utilisation and  quality, and therefore farm profitability. 

Pasture utilisation on beef farms ranges from 40-70%, compared to 80-90% in dairy systems. Halter founder and chief executive Craig Piggott said Halter will allow more beef farms to adopt more efficient rotational grazing in a cost-effective, unconstrained way. 

“Rotational grazing is proven to be better for grass regrowth and quality, and optimising feed intake, but, historically, adoption of rotational grazing on beef farms has been limited given the expensive fencing infrastructure and time-intensive labour involved. 

Virtual fencing can unlock this grazing best practice, including on hill country terrain that has been difficult to farm efficiently. 

“Beef farmers have told us virtual fencing could be the most transformational change the industry has seen,” Piggott said. 

“It’s a huge leap forward, and the production and sustainability gain our first customers are expecting are fairly profound.” 

Northland hill-country farmer James Parsons runs a 600ha Angus stud farm and is one of Halter’s first beef customers. 

“Effortless rotational grazing on hill country beef farms is an untapped lever for achieving more sustainable and profitable production,” he said.

“Halter is a technology that can make best practice possible and bring hill-country farming into a new era.”

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