Wearable cow monitoring system being trialled on beef herds

// Breeding and Genetics

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.

image of female farmers tagging cow

Dr Jason Archer, B+LNZ Livestock Genetics Specialist, says 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.

He says while CowManager has proven its worth in the dairy industry, its use in beef herds has been limited, hence the trial that is being run on Jane and Blair Smith’s North Otago Fossil Creek Angus stud herd and the Pāmu Kepler Farm herd which hosts the B+LNZ Genetics Beef Progeny Test near Manapouri in Southland.

Electronic ear-tags monitor activity (including grazing, ruminating and walking) and temperature along with other variables. The system generates an alert when unusual events occur such as when a cow is unwell. 

Dr Archer says the system also has a fertility module which senses when a cow is cycling and this, in particular, is the information the Informing New Zealand Beef Programme is looking for.

“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.”

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

On Jane and Blair Smith’s farm, 160 yearling heifers and 70 two-year-old cows are now wearing the CowManager eartags, while on Pāmu’s Kepler Farm 126 yearling heifers and 54 two-year-old cows will be trialling the tags.

Blair and Jane Smith see this technology as a potential gamechanger for beef breeding herds.

 "To see the possibilities that this technology brings is exciting. The ability to gather a wealth of real-time data and incorporate this alongside genetic evaluation could mean a very powerful decision-support package for breeding herds going forward."

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, particularly for performance-recorded operations,” says Dr Archer,

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

Pāmu is trialling four different wearable technology solutions for livestock on some of their farms for functions including virtual fencing, managing animal health, and heat detection. The data from the B+LNZ trial will be incorporated into the wearables programme for future recommendations.

The INZB programme is a seven-year Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures partnership supported by B+LNZ, the New Zealand Meat Board and the Ministry for Primary Industries. 

The programme aims to boost the sector’s profits by $460m over the next 25 years. In addition to developing a beef genetic evaluation system that includes traits of importance to New Zealand’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.

A new approach to extension design with the goal of increasing farmer engagement across the industry is also being developed. 

“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,” says Dr Archer.