Fitness tracker for cows to help Australian farmers

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and agtech startup Ceres Tag have created a new type of ‘fit bit’ to help farmers keep track of their livestock.

The new technology, which takes the form of a smart ear tag, produces similar data to that delivered by consumer smart watches.

Using the device farmers can track where their herds graze, if an animal has escaped or been stolen, and even unusual movements which could indicate an animal is giving birth or sick.

The smart ear tag was successfully trialled on 100 cattle at CSIRO’s Lansdown Research Station near Townsville, Queensland, last week.

READ: Slowing meat production signals good price news for beef and sheep

The aim is to save farmers time and money compared to the costs of manually tracking their herds using vehicles or aircraft.

David Smith, CEO of Ceres Tag, said Ceres Tag gives greater transparency over grazing management, allowing farmers to locate and monitor their animals to reduce risk and operating costs, improve efficiency and assist with traceability.

“The tag is GPS-enabled, allowing farmers to track the location of individual animals remotely, via Internet of Things (IoT) capability,” he said.

Using on-board accelerometers, the tag can send out alerts for unusual activity patterns which could be triggered by events like theft and other disturbances of the herd.

CSIRO group leader Ed Charmley said Australian farmers need every bit of help they can get right now.

“We are pleased it has taken less than a year for this technology to move from the research phase into development for a real-world trial on cattle.

“Our focus for future iterations is to create a smaller and lighter tag, as well as added functionality such as a temperature sensor, which could alert farmers to illnesses at an earlier stage,” said Charmley.

Ceres Tag will be on show at the digital forum at MLA’s Red Meat 2018 event in Canberra on November 22 – 23 and the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Brisbane the following week.

The tags aspire to be the world’s first smart ear tag accredited for provenance to international traceability standards, including Australia’s National Livestock Identification System (NLIS).

They are designed for improved retention and to last throughout the life of the animal in Australia’s unique and often harsh conditions.

CSIRO and Ceres Tag will release further iterations of the smart ear tag, drawing on CSIRO’s deep livestock knowledge and the sensing and data analytics expertise of its technology arm, Data61.

The development of the smart ear tag was co-funded by MLA Donor Company.

Cattle prices trend down as drought conditions increase pressure in market

Cattle prices have generally trended down during 2018, but some states have been more stable than others, Meat and Livestock Australia has reported.

In the eastern states, young cattle have struggled to find consistent support in the market as the poor season has unfolded, with the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) on a downward trajectory for the most part of 2018.

EYCI category cattle in Queensland have seen the biggest decrease for the year, down 99¢/kg carcase weight (cwt) from the beginning of 2018 to the 16th of September.

NSW has declined 61¢/kg cwt and prices in Victoria have remained relatively stable easing 10¢/kg cwt.

READ: Sheep and cattle slaughter increases to reduce stock numbers during drought

WA has benefited from a more typical season, especially in the south with prices down only 8¢/kg cwt for the year.

Young cattle in the west are now trading at a considerable premium through the yards, with a 52¢/kg cwt premium over NSW and 57¢/kg cwt above Victorian prices.

The figures below are for the year-to-date – to the 16th September.
NSW – down 61¢ to 504¢/kg cwt
Queensland – down 99¢ to 482¢/kg cwt
Victoria – down 10¢ to 499¢/kg cwt
WA – down 8¢ to 556¢/kg cwt

Similar to young cattle, cow prices have been under pressure through most of 2018.

Poor conditions coming in to winter and minimal rain during that time contributed to low restocker competition and consequently, lower prices.

However, over the last month, the medium cow indicator has started to see a bit of a resurgence as spring brings some optimism.

NSW and Queensland have seen the best of the increases recently – the NSW medium cow indicator rose 79¢ from the start of August to average 441¢.

Queensland increased 81¢ to 460¢/kg cwt. Victoria has also increased, although not to the same extent, up 47¢/kg cwt.

The cow price differential for 2018 is WA, where the indicator remained most stable and recorded a slight upwards trend throughout the year.

This is partly due to its low starting point, a 40¢ discount to the eastern states, at 364¢/kg cwt in January.

The medium cow indicator for WA was 432¢, only 9¢ below NSW prices and a 24¢/kg cwt premium over Victoria.

The figures below are for the year-to-date – to the 18th September.
NSW – up 20¢ to 441¢/kg cwt
QLD – up 34¢ to 460¢/kg cwt
Victoria – up 2¢ to 408¢/kg cwt
WA – up 68¢ to 432¢/kg cwt