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Remote control technologies to revolutionise farm life

WHILE they still cannot run the farm from the beach, cattle producers can look forward to cutting costs, saving time and sleeping a little easier by adopting innovative remote technologies.

A producer demonstration site (PDS) on a northwest Queensland property is demonstrating the gains and cost savings of walk-over-weighing (WOW) and remote-sensing technologies.

PDS coordinator Rebecca Gunther said the project had already led to the remote management systems that are now commercially available being refined and further developed.

The Remote Livestock Management System (RLMS) being trialled by the PDS was developed by Alice Springs-based company Precision Pastoral.

Trials have found the system can save cattle producers up to $68 a head annually.

RLMS combines hardware and software to remotely identify, weigh and draft individual animals and then transmits data via a solar powered unit to a central location.

According to Gunther, each time the cattle move through a race to reach a water point, they walk over a weigh bridge, pass an NLIS scanner and go through programmable auto drafting gates.

"The producers could see a plateau in liveweight gain in response to changes in pasture quality, and establish the optimum time to begin feeding dry season lick," she said.

In the first year of the trial the weights didn’t plateau until about six weeks after the neighbouring Flinders Shire Beef Challenge group, which had begun feeding lick based on the traditional visual appraisal.

Gunther said the six-week delay represented a significant saving in supplement costs, across 1,000 head.

WOW also allows producers to pinpoint other key management triggers, such as marketing and turn off.

"If your agent rings wanting a certain class of steer, or the meatworks price grid is offering a premium price for particular weight range, you can look at the WOW data and know quickly whether you have cattle in that range," Gunther said.

There are limitations in having just the WOW bridge – the cattle still need to be drafted according to specifications.

So the PDS is now trialling an auto-drafter, also supplied by Precision Pastoral, which can categorise animals of different weights.

"If you want everything over 500kg, for example, you can program the auto-drafter. There is minimal stress to the animals, less bruising and a lot less labour," Gunther said.

"The initial financial outlay will be paid off over time because you don’t need that extra labour to muster and you save time not having to drive around the paddock visually appraising the cattle."
Remote monitoring cameras were installed to visually monitor the water trough levels at the PDS.

The cameras used in the PDS trial were provided by William and Hollie Harrington from Harrington Systems Electronics.

The couple designed and built the uSee remote monitoring cameras on the family cattle station, Olga Downs, north of Richmond.

The camera takes photos five times a day and on demand, and they can be accessed online.

Sending images via the Next G or satellite telephone system, the cameras are used by producers to watch watering points, especially in hot weather, monitor livestock and to check irrigation channels.

At a cost of $1300 a camera, Gunther said the technology is undergoing continual improvement and the next step will be two megapixel-sized images from the cameras which will allow users to zoom in on the ear tag to identify the animal.

"They are one of the best labour-saving gadgets I’ve seen," she said.

"You don’t have to drive to the paddock every day to check the water troughs or lay awake at night wondering if the 2000 weaners out the back have any water."

"By installing cameras at water points, you could reduce the frequency of bore runs from perhaps two or three times a week to only once a week.

"The savings in diesel and labour costs will cover the camera costs before the end of the dry season."