Meat & Livestock News

Innovative Wearable Technology for Beef Herds Under Trial in New Zealand

New Zealand’s beef industry is on the cusp of a technological revolution with the trial of a new wearable cow monitoring system, spearheaded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ). This initiative, part of the Informing New Zealand Beef Programme, is exploring the potential of CowManager ear-tags, previously used in the dairy sector, for detailed monitoring of beef herds.

The Trial and Its Scope:

The trial, conducted on Jane and Blair Smith’s North Otago Fossil Creek Angus stud herd and the Pāmu Kepler Farm herd in Southland, is investigating the technology’s ability to provide intricate details about fertility, especially in heifers and cows being re-bred for their second calf. Dr Jason Archer, B+LNZ Livestock Genetics Specialist, emphasises the importance of this trial in understanding the fertility cycle, including the age of puberty, conception dates, and post-partum oestrous.

Technology Behind the Monitoring System:

The CowManager system utilises electronic ear tags to monitor various activities such as grazing, ruminating, walking, and temperature. It alerts farmers to unusual events, like illness in cows. A key feature of this system is its fertility module, which detects when a cow is cycling, providing valuable data for genetic evaluation and breeding decisions.

Participation and Expectations:

On the Smiths’ farm, 160 yearling heifers and 70 two-year-old cows are now equipped with these ear-tags, while Pāmu’s Kepler Farm is trialling the tags on 126 yearling heifers and 54 two-year-old cows. The Smiths view this technology as a potential game-changer for beef breeding herds, offering a wealth of real-time data for more informed breeding decisions.

Broader Implications and Future Prospects:

The trial, running until the end of March, could expand to more herds if successful. It’s part of a larger initiative by Pāmu to trial various wearable technology solutions for livestock, including virtual fencing and health management. The data from this trial will contribute to future recommendations in the wearables programme.

The Informing New Zealand Beef Programme:

This programme, a seven-year Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures partnership supported by B+LNZ, the New Zealand Meat Board, and the Ministry for Primary Industries, aims to boost sector profits by $460 million over the next 25 years. It focuses on developing a beef genetic evaluation system, creating tools for efficient data management, and enhancing farmer engagement across the industry.

Dr Archer summarises the vision of the programme: to enable farmers to produce high-quality meat with a strong environmental narrative while improving production efficiencies. This trial represents a significant step towards integrating advanced technology into traditional farming practices, potentially transforming New Zealand’s beef industry.