to bring our
along as we
let them pick
want to use
—David Lamb, University
of New England, Armidale,
tralia. “With the aid of GPSs on combines, we’ve
been mapping yield to track and improve harvests
for 20 years. But we’re just now turning our atten-
tion to cattle and sheep.”
Igniting the data revolution is a basic need for
efficiency. Mr. Lamb’s team, for example, recently
completed a project to develop livestock yield
maps. Believed to be the first such tool of its kind,
it tracks animals’ grazing movements to show
where the most valuable weight gain is coming
from. Armed with that info, farmers can make bet-
ter use of their grasslands.
“Pasture utilization here in Australia is less than
50 percent on average, so we know there’s room to
increase productivity,” he says.
The two-year SwagBot project is all about helping ranchers more cost-effectively monitor Australia’s outback cattle stations, which can span more
than 4,000 square kilometers ( 1,544 square miles).
Using thermal and vision sensors, the “farmbot”
will help ranchers identify sick and injured animals
as well as track whether they have sufficient grazing, according to a report in New Scientist.
“We want to improve the quality of animal
health and make it easier for farmers to maintain
large landscapes where animals roam free,” University of Sydney’s Salah Sukkarieh told the magazine.
Rebooting the Ranch
For any of the tech to truly take hold, it must be
simple and intuitive enough for ranchers with limited tech skills to use it.
Precision Animal Solutions is working on a
project aimed at delivering a product to track
bovine respiratory disease, “the biggest cause of
lost dollars and dead cattle in the feeding industry,” says Dan Goehl, co-founder of the Manhattan, Kansas, USA company.
The concept uses a radio-frequency identification system to track the movement, speed and
socialization patterns of cattle. When cows are
sick, they tend to move slower and isolate themselves from the herd. Proprietary algorithms will
be able to sense those subtle differences and identify cows that need attention.
“The computer can pick up idiosyncrasies that
humans can’t. And that means better efficiencies,
less antibiotic use and fewer dead cattle,” Mr.
But the team knew it had to stick to the basics.
“We don’t want to overwhelm users with all this
data that isn’t useful on a daily basis,” Mr. Goehl
says. “They just need to know in one glance which
animals are at risk. It can be as easy as a text mes-
sage that tells them which calves to pull.”
Even if a tool delivers benefits, organizations
still might face a tough audience. So Mr. Lamb
recommends engaging end users during the design
and testing phases of an R&D project “to create an
appetite” for the technology. At his university, the
team relies on a 7,000-acre ( 2,833-hectare) facility
for testing intelligent farming projects.
“We need to bring our stakeholders along as
we research, and let them pick what they want to
use and access,” Mr. Lamb says. “With the grains
industry, many researchers coughed up and spat
out lots of technology, and in some cases it took
the industry 10 years to find their footing with it.
So this has to be a husbanding exercise right from
the start. We don’t want to spend time working up
some silver bullet solution they can’t access because
In the 18 months after the university opened its
SMART Farm Innovation Center in March 2015,
the team’s tech workshops and discussion attracted
more than 3,000 stakeholders, from small farming
operations to large corporations. “The tide is turn-
ing, and we want to make sure people know that
sustainable, manageable and accessible rural tech-
nologies are out there.” —Kate Rockwood
Meet SwagBot, a robot
developed to round up cattle