New Technology

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

On a remote cattle station some time into the future, the phone rings. A buyer has a boat going to Indonesia at the end of the week and the weight range is 270-340 kgs.

"How many can you supply?" the voice asks.

Traditionally, the pastoralist would give an estimate and then get the mob in to check the weights. Today though, our farmer makes a few clicks on his mouse. Sensors at watering points have enabled the weight of individual cattle to be recorded daily and he can see straight away he will have 22 decks in that range. The deal is done over the phone and a few minutes later,  the trucks have been ordered without even sighting a beast.

The technology is not as far-fetched as it sounds and after the success of trials at Napperby Station, north-west of Alice Springs, could be available to individual producers within the year.

It is the application in the saleyard, however, that could really make a difference to their business, delivering the pot of gold of the beef export industry—lifetime traceability.

"The talk at the moment is that lifetime traceability could be worth up to 20 cents more a kilo as the industry looks to expand into new markets around the world," says Tim Driver, Director of CAWD Livestock, the company that developed the technology.

Driver is at the Bohning Yards at Alice Springs overseeing the demonstration of the sensors to the executive members of the Northern Territory  (NT) Cattlemen's Association.

CAWD Livestock was given a brief by the association to develop an automatic drafting system that would identify and separate cattle that either had a faulty National Livestock Identification  (NLIS) Scheme tag or no tag at all.

While similar systems have been developed over the years, they wanted one that could read from either direction, something that previously had been an impediment.

"This system is unique," Driver says.

"There are a few around that were trialed when the NLIS was first introduced, but I believe this is the only multi-directional drafter that exists. The cattle can run either left to right or right to left through the machine with draft gates or slide gates at either end so it doesn't matter which direction the animals are going, we can still draft them. It just makes installation in yards a lot easier."

Driver says the trial at the Bohning Yards will hopefully be the start of a national rollout into saleyards and feedlots across Australia. "This technology has applications anywhere cattle are traded," he says.
"The main benefit for producers will be that they can send their cattle to the yards and know that all their tags are read and their NLIS data transfers are right. "Hopefully if their cattle are lifetime traceable, they should receive a bit of extra money."

At Bohning, as a demonstration mob moves through the race with the NT cattlemen looking on, Driver reflects on the project that took him around the world in search of information. "We've been working on this sort of technology for 3 to 3 1/2  years, very much starting from scratch," he said.

"We were given an idea about revisiting how animals are managed and we've basically, with a lot of consulting and consultation with producers, built a system from the ground up. I tell you, it's been a very interesting and exciting road. It is an amazing feeling to build a product like this that you can see can have such a major benefit to the industry."



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