Regularly weighing animals is a challenge for New Zealand sheep and beef farmers, but is critical to understanding animal growth rates and condition and thus making decisions on feeding requirements.
Existing solutions require a mob of animals to be taken into the yards, where the they are run across the scales one animal at a time. The animal must be ‘held’ on the scales for a few seconds to enable the weight to be calculated, and where available an animals’ identification tag is also read.
Moving animals to and from the yards directly impacts feed intake by taking the animals off feed and sometimes indirectly by negatively affecting eating patterns. Yarding animals can also aid in the spread of disease.
Less than half of NZ farmers have the equipment required to weigh animals and thus the opportunity to maximise weight gain and ensure animals are in the best condition is lost to the majority.
Where farmers do utilise weighing equipment animals can be drafted after being weighed into different mobs based on weight and growth rates since last being weighed.
Mobile weighing solutions have been tested, usually based on solutions almost identical to fixed weighing equipment, but are highly problematic, expensive, bulky, and very heavy to transport.
We want farmers to be able to easily obtain animal weights to support feeding decisions. The major challenges are:
- Existing equipment is relatively expensive, requires expert assistance to install, a level of technical capability to use and needs regular maintenance to ensure accuracy
- Existing solutions require animals to be moved off feed which impacts growth rates
- The number of times weights can be obtained is limited by the need to bring animals into the yards
- The effort and time required is significant
- Obtaining animal weights while in the paddock is currently not practically feasible
- Average mob weights are of some value, but knowing individual animal weights offers far greater value
- Transferring the data captured to software systems for further analysis is being done, but often requires intermediary steps such as to a Smartphone via Bluetooth which then syncs to the cloud
- Sheep and beef farms are typically on hilly country. Some of this is steep and inaccessible to anything but a quad or motor bike
- Conditions can be cold, wet, and dirty, making the use of small screen/buttons difficult
- Many farmers are older and have little in the way of computer skills that younger or tech savvy people take for granted
An innovative solution to this problem would include:
- Enable individual weights to be captured in the paddock, or as animals pass through a 3 metre wide gateway.
- Require less infrastructure, which is low cost and much easier to use
- Minimal farmer effort and time required
- High degree of accuracy in determination of weights - 3% variance maximum
- Where animals have individual tags, weights captured to be associated with tag number
- Data captured is able to be easily transmitted (e.g. to a software application)
- Work in rugged topography, with high winds/rain and with variable access to internet on farm. The latter ranging from good to none over large areas of a farm.
The desired outcome is simple and more frequent access to animal weights and growth rates, to enable farmers to make better decisions on feeding requirements.
Knowing the weights and growth rates of animals enables farmers to optimise the utilisation of available feed, meet processor demand schedules and ensure for example ewes, are in the best condition for mating and lambing.
These measured outcomes will support increased productivity and profitability, helping to make the red meat sector more sustainable.