Green light for new hi-tech ear health tag for cattle

A US invention is set to revolutionise detection of ill cattle through a new biometric technology being trialled in Australia.
A US invention is set to revolutionise detection of ill cattle through a new biometric technology being trialled in Australia.

Trials in Australia are producing top results for a new biometric livestock ear tag that can alert managers to animal illness.

A US invention, an Australian Geelong-based company is trialling the technology in several states.

Already the trials are bringing promising results, with the led light technology alerting managers up to seven days earlier than average of cattle sickness, and identifying almost double the number of ill cattle compared to pen riders.

In one trial the biometric ear tags identified an extra 25 cattle with lung scores. Cattle are sometimes prone to respiratory issues in feedlots and it can be costly if animals are not isolated early and treated.

The only hitch has been a hungry cockatoo at a trial at Condamine that ‘ate’  an antenna that was sending data to the trial organisers, ruining a week’s data.

“Our figures would have been even better if it wasn’t for that cockatoo,” says Australian ID start-up Provenance4 managing director Stewart McConachy. “We’ve since organised a cage – to keep the antennas safe,” he said.

Mr McConachy said he was very excited at the early trial results and was confident subsequent trials will show even better results. He saw the technology as especially suiting feedlots, stud and prized cattle and in the dairy industry.

 Provenance4 has signed an exclusive distribution agreement for Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific with the tag developer QuantifiedAg from Nebraska. Mr McConachy said the revolutionary tag, to be launched early next year, would be a boon to the feedlot sector.

“Pulling cattle out of large feedlots for treatment can be time consuming and this is once a livestock manager has actually identified that an animal is sick,” he said.

“QuantifiedAg has developed this advanced technology tag that includes an LED light that shows up bright green when an animal is sick as identified by body temperature and physical activity.

“The concept has been tested in US feedlots and is completing stage one trials involving more than 800 head of cattle in four states in Australia. Stage two trials will further enhance the data collection process and validate the benefits to feedlot operators.”

Stewart McConachy said feedlots were normally highly organised and pen riders usually knew which animals were in which pens. 

“However, when a pen rider has to single out a specific animal in a pen, there needs be a highly visible alert to identify the individual animal requiring veterinary intervention. Hence the LED light on the ear tag, which is visible during the day and at night.

 “Cattle tend to ‘hide’ their symptoms from humans, who often don’t pick up on illnesses until late in the process.”

The revolutionary new QuantifiedAg ear tags monitor cattle 24/7 and therefore, pick up illnesses sooner than humans might.

“To minimise the infrastructure requirements for the system, we have developed our own base-station that is installed in the cattle operation. The base-station sends the data from each ear tag to cloud servers. 

“That is where the bulk of data processing takes place and vital information is relayed back to the cattle manager via a web-based software dashboard. The system compares individual animal data responses.

“The antenna and base station are installed with a tagging tool based on individual property requirements so managers can select the number of animals to be monitored.”

The system works by tracking animal temperatures and physical activity. 

“Bovine Respiratory Disease is the most common cause of mortality and morbidity in US and Australian cattle feedlots. 

“Our trials have had a major focus on this. Results have shown that the system is able to identify animals with illnesses several days before they would be clinical observation.”

More trial results will be released in the next two weeks. Stage two of the trials will  introduce a new Tagging Applicator that will replace the existing air operated applicator. The new applicator will improve the retention of tags and minimise the workload on staff applying tags. The US website says the system can work with a receiver radius of up to two miles and  capacity of handling 60,000 head per receiver.