‘Fitbit for cows’ set to revolutionise beef industry from paddock to plate

An electronic tracking ear tag being developed for cattle could forever change the way graziers manage both livestock and farmland.

Researchers from James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville are collaborating with the Queensland Department of Science, the CSIRO and commercial partner Ceres Tag to adapt GPS technology for small, affordable livestock ear tags.

Computational chemistry expert, Ian Atkinson said the project would ultimately enable more accurate assessment of livestock condition.

“The microelectronics that the huge companies use has led to a huge amount of research and development and that’s driven down cost.”

Before such a level of specific livestock monitoring can be developed, Professor Atkinson is aiming to refine geolocation of animals through the prototype ear tag.

“The group at CSIRO that are working with Ceres Tag and JCU on this project are working on a really low-powered GPS device,” he said.

“It’ll fit in the same form as the current NLIS (National Livestock Identification System) tags.”

Professor Atkinson said the device will switch on and off as required and harvest energy from its environment, meaning graziers will never have to replace batteries as with early prototypes.

Cutting edge technology

The technology will use triangulation from solar-powered radio transmitters to provide an accurate picture of animal movements across a paddock or farm.

David Smith, who is CEO and Development Director at Ceres Tag, said use of the ear tag would put producers in a strong selling position by being able to provide a guaranteed record of an animal’s entire life.

“We’ll see theft reduction … an increase in operational and land-use efficiency and animal health and biosecurity.”

Professor Atkinson agreed that providing a paddock-to-plate picture for consumers through tracking individual animals could see the value of livestock jump on international markets.

“Where animals have been, what they’ve grazed on — that key information actually has marketable value,” Professor Atkinson said.

If the technology becomes widespread, the wealth of data could also help livestock businesses plan well into the future for financial stability, Professor Atkinson said.

“Banks really want to know how many head you have and the condition they are in,” he said.

Extra funding for the project

The project has received a funding boost from Advance Queensland Innovation Partnerships of $1.5 million to help commercialise the tag.

That money will enable JCU to employ staff to help with their part of the project, including investigating precise, low-cost geolocation technologies.

“Although this sounds like science fiction and people have probably read about this and seen various false starts, the truth about this is the technology has improved dramatically,” Professor Atkinson said.

Initial testing will be conducted at CSIRO’s Lansdown Research Station at Woodstock near Townsville within the next 12 months.

A technological revolution

While cost for both the tag and supporting technology looms as the greatest barrier to widespread adoption, Professor Atkinson believes a quantum shift in attitudes to data collection will occur.

Currently worth $17 billion annually to the national economy, Professor Atkinson says the opportunity for growth through the technological revolution in cattle alone is huge.

“This will let us drive up that value chain in the international beef industry, so it could be worth billions,” he said.

“We have to come up with strategies to roll stuff out to producers, and one of those things is to show them the real value proposition they can get from this stuff.”

CREDIT: www.abc.net.au