Rapid advancements in technology can help producers better manage their timeWritten by Gayle Smith
Technology is rapidly advancing the cattle business. The capability now exists for specialized ear tags and drones to check on cattle and monitor their health.
“Five years ago, no one had even heard of a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), other than drones used by the military,” says Pete Cunningham with Ag Eagle and Cunningham Ag Services in Ansley, Neb. “There has been a lot of progress since then and especially in the last year.”
“There is no limit in what data these drones can gather. Producers just need to decide what data they want,” he says.
Drones for management
Cunningham sees the drones becoming part of everyday cattle management, if producers are willing to embrace this technology.
“UAVs, or drones, are tools to carry a sensor of some type,” he explains. “These sensors can be of any endless possibility from precision livestock management to locating an animal. It can change how we manage and identify sick and under-performing individuals even sooner than a pen rider or by horseback in a pasture.”
“Whatever our program is, this technology will only make that better,” he adds.
If a farmer/feeder has 1,000 head of cattle in a feedlot, he may also be the pen rider, Cunningham continues.
“If there is a snowstorm, he may have to concentrate on feeding the cattle and other chores and let the pen checking go. The UAV can check the cattle for him and issue alerts. It is capable of catching an outbreak of sickness or even alerting us to a single animal that doesn’t show its normal signs of activity. It allows us to handle a couple head and leave the other 998 alone,” he says.
Try it out
Cunningham encourages producers to experiment with this new technology.
“It may start out as a toy until the rancher can figure out how to make it usable in the operation,” he says. “Anyone can experiment with drones at a relatively low cost. Until a producer determines how they want to use the technology, I wouldn’t recommend starting with a high-end device,” he states.
Under new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations implemented in August, persons who want to fly a drone must be at least 16 years old and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. They must also hold either a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who does.
To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, a person must demonstrate aeronautical knowledge by either passing an initial aeronautical test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or hold a Part 61 pilot certificate, according to the FAA regulations for using a drone.
Benefits across the board
Cunningham believes small producers can even benefit from using drones.
“The advantage of being a smaller operator is having the time to evaluate all the data these drones can provide to us and determining how to implement it,” he explains. “The drones have the capability of gathering more information than some operations have time to evaluate.”
Andrew Uden with Quantified Ag in Lincoln, Neb. says the development of a biometric sensing ear tag, when combined with a data analysis tool set, can improve traceability in the whole system and change big data’s role in precision beef production.
“In the livestock business, as we utilize biometric readers, smart ear tags and better technology with individual animals, we can actually manage at that level,” he says. “We no longer have to pull an entire pen of cattle to treat one individual. We can manage cattle on a head-by-head basis, which fits very well into what our industry has built from a management perspective.”
“It puts more of the efficiency and cost management structure back into the hands of the producer,” he says.
This technology can measure biometrics and behavior of animals, verify if an animal was treated for disease and the outcome, and determine if the animal was treated humanely, he notes.
What these advancements will require is the development of a reliable network so these products can be used in remote areas.
“The problem with this technology is it takes a lot of infrastructure to put in place,” Uden explains. “Our technology steps in to fill some of these gaps by creating reliable range that animals can be away from the reader.”
“We have a two-mile range on our reader right now,” he notes.
“We are also creating a platform that will take some of these same sensors that monitor inner ear canal temperature, head position and mobility of the animal, and from that we can use this data to create a health picture of the animal at any given time of the day,” he says. “With that information, the producer can decide if they want to pull and treat that animal.”
“In fact, finding that animal in a pen of cattle is as simple as turning on a light on the ear tag. We have built an ear tag that can basically send and receive data. Doing this gives us options of what we want to change and turning the light on and off when we are sorting groups of cattle,” he explains.
In the future, Uden says this technology will be able to tell a producer what disease an animal has and whether or not it should be treated for it.
“This technology will help make the industry more sustainable,” he says.