Improving automated data capture and utilisation in the beef industry

Working with two Scottish suckler beef producers, we've been exploring how automating data collection at regular weighing times can help them to make informed decisions around breeding, nutrition and finishing dates to improve efficiency.

There is scope to improve the efficiency of beef production with better collection and use of data to help make informed breeding decisions.

For example, technology exists to automatically record weight data such as birth weight, weaning weight, and weights for cattle at various stages to calculate liveweight gain and assess growth efficiency. However, even farmers that regularly weigh their cattle don’t always have the technology to automatically capture this data or have the time to analyse it to base future breeding decisions on. This year, we’ve been working with two progressive suckler beef producers to improve the current weighing systems on their farm.

Andrew Houstoun at Glenkilrie farms 170 Limousin and Angus cross cows over 1000 ha in the Perthshire hills, alongside 1100 breeding ewes and 70 red deer hinds. All spring calving, he sells the majority of the calves store, finishing some for the meat box business, Glenkilrie Larder, which he runs with his wife Lauren.  Andrew, who doesn’t currently use electronic (EID) tags, invested in a Shearwell handheld stock recorder which links to a Tru-test xr5000 weigh head on the weigh scale to automatically record into Shearwell Farmwork software. As a further comparison point for the project, Andrew is also using Agriwebb software which allows weights to be recorded at the crush in the same manner, this time through an android tablet connected to the same weigh head.

Iain Wilkinson, at Balgay Farm near Inchture in Perthshire, farms 1000 acres under a share farming agreement. As well as 200 Hereford and Shorthorn Cattle, both pedigree and commercial co-owned in the share agreements, he runs 450 Mules ewes of his own.  Iain uses low frequency EID tags and, ahead of starting the trial, invested in a Tru-test S3 weigh scale indicator which automatically records animal weights into his Breedr app. Fixed to the crush, a simple press of the button at the start of each session collects the data.  A key area of interest for him, is how he can improve the diet formulation to improve performance. By weighing monthly, he sees where he can adjust feed at regular intervals for best results.

Lorna MacPherson and Lorna Shaw, both Specialist livestock consultants with SAC Consulting, are supporting the farmers with setting up the technologies on farm and later with the data analysis to allow future breeding and feeding decisions to be made.  The equipment was set-up on farm in early autumn, in time for weighing calves at weaning, and data will be captured regularly as cattle are handled routinely.

We will update this page throughout the year as we follow the progress made by Andrew and Iain.

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