January 18, 2022

Using technology helps cattlemen improve management decisions

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Healthy cattle are more sustainable and profitable.

“We have to have efficiency and profitability,” said Andy Dorn, beef product manager for Allflex Livestock Intelligence North America. “We’re going to need technology to help us enable decisions and see real data.”

Ultimately it is about connections from birth to fork, said Dorn during the Cattlemen’s Webinar Series hosted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“As we go from visual identification to electronic ID, we’re talking about monitoring of animals daily,” Dorn said.

With EID tags, Dorn said, cattlemen can connect identification and monitoring of vaccinations and health to genetic information.

“We can also connect to scales to monitor weight gain and suggest optimal time for sale or give adequate medicine dosage,” he said.

By monitoring animals closer cattlemen can make better decisions.

“With an EID ear tag, you can take temperatures and monitor the activity of animal,” Dorn said. “This doesn’t replace labor, but helps cattlemen make a decision about how an animal is feeling.”

Darr Feedlot, which markets about 100,000 head of cattle annually, has been using EID tags for over 15 years.

“We have a significant number of retained ownership customers and they want to know carcass data,” said Duane Gangwish, business project manager for the feedlot located in central Nebraska. “They use that information to evaluate their breeding program, cow families and AI sires.”

With the use of an EID tag, Gangwish said, information is fed back to the feedlot from the packing plant that includes carcass weight, ribeye area, quality grades and yield grades.

“If you don’t have a way to bring data back to the individual animal, it gets lost in the noise,” Gangwish said.

“The software allows us to know the morbidity and mortality in a pen of animals and we know which animals were treated, when they were treated and the withdrawal dates,” he said. “It is important that everything we treat is tracked by an EID, even the serial numbers of the products we use so that we can evaluate ourselves using the data.”

Darr Feedlot has been working with a company that is developing a product that uses breath samples to evaluate cattle health.

“A silicone mask is placed over the muzzle of a calf and a LED light tells you when you have an appropriate breath sample,” Gangwish said.

“It measures the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13,” he said. “In a healthy animal, the ratio is one direction, and as soon as you turn the immune system on due to infection, that ratio inverts almost instantaneously.”

As a result, an infected animal can be identified within hours of onset instead of a person looking for clinical signs which might be identified two to five days post infection.

Cattlemen take a breath sample from a calf while the animal is in a chute.

“There is about a 30-second response time, so while we’re giving a vaccine, we can have the indicator from the breath sample almost immediately,” Gangwish said.

“This technology is a multi-species platform and we’ve been collecting data on beef cattle for about 1.5 years,” he said. “We also have a 2,500-cow dairy in Wisconsin and we’ve been collecting data for almost a year where we’ve been able to pick up mastitis and ketosis in fresh cows.”

Therefore, Gangwish said, the herdsman has been able to start treatment sooner.

“If we can intervene sooner, we have a better opportunity to be able to beneficially impact the animal,” Gangwish said.

“Being able to use tools that have gone from spreadsheets to databases to complex algorithms to analyze data on the fly are all going to continue to evolve and become more valuable in our industry,” he said.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor