Automatic drafting's potential to change calf management practices

Automatic drafting's potential to change calf management practices


Beef
Kym Patison with a Brahman heifer fitted with a proximity sensing collar at CQUniversity, Rockhampton.

Kym Patison with a Brahman heifer fitted with a proximity sensing collar at CQUniversity, Rockhampton.

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WALK over weighing systems could be used to help allow producers to carry out earlier castration, dehorning and tagging, with Central Queensland University researchers delving into how automatic drafting could potentially improve calf management practices.

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WALK over weighing systems could be used to help allow producers to carry out earlier castration, dehorning and tagging, with Central Queensland University researchers delving into how automatic drafting could potentially improve calf management practices.

The automatic drafting research aims to help figure out how the technology could benefit livestock operations,which could ultimately make it easier for producers to justify adopting it.

The technology works by installing infrastructure at the entrance to a fenced area surrounding water troughs, with cattle required to walk over a weighing platform and through a drafting gate. As they are weighed, the cattle can be drafted in three different directions.

After a few years of research into the technology, CQ University now operates three automatic drafting systems, one at their Rockhampton campus and two at Belmont Research Station.

Project manager Kym Patison said automatic drafting could make it easier to separate calves from their mothers at an earlier age without conducting a full muster to allow animal husbandry practices such as tagging, castration, vaccination and dehorning to be carried out.

"Research has shown that when husbandry practices are carried out earlier they are less stressful to the animal and their recovery time is also shorter," Dr Patison said.

"Improving animal welfare is a driving factor in the project."

The latest step in the research is a survey to see how livestock producers might use the technology and the main benefits they can see.

"We want to make a system that's applicable to the community but we're never going to be able to get a system that's one size fits all," Dr Patison said.

"It's going to suit some people more than others.

"For example if you've got more surface water, your cattle are going to prefer that rather than heading to the trough."

 A heifer wearing a GPS collar being auto-drafted at CQUniversity, Rockhampton.

A heifer wearing a GPS collar being auto-drafted at CQUniversity, Rockhampton.

Dr Patison said they envisioned the automatic drafting systems to also have uses for recording live weights of cattle on a consistent basis and helping to determine maternal parentage more accurately.

"Nothing will replace visually checking on your cattle but you've got your eyes and ears out there so to speak," she said.

"If the data doesn't add up, you can look into it to find answers.

"It's that piece of mind when you can't get out there.

"I think giving people more information about these systems will help them learn if it's right for them."

Other CQ University research on the technology involves a supplement trial to see if automatic drafting can be used to separate cattle into different groups and fed accordingly.

The survey will run until the end of May.

To complete the survey, go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CQU-Auto-drafting

Calves being drafted from their mothers by an automatic drafting system at Belmont Research Station

Calves being drafted from their mothers by an automatic drafting system at Belmont Research Station

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