Bovine fitness trackers aren’t the only attempt to use technology to spot early signs of illness in feedlot cattle.
Most efforts are focused on detecting bovine respiratory disease (BRD), the most common (and costly) illness affecting beef cattle and they’re borrowing a page from your mom’s handbook by asking, ‘Why are you poking at your dinner? Aren’t you feeling well?’
There are systems on the market that can monitor how much each animal in a feedlot is eating and can identify BRD up to a week before there are visible signs of the disease. The systems use RFID tags, individual feeding stalls, and scales to measure how much feed is consumed.
So is it worth that extra expense?
That was the question that a team of researchers from the University of Calgary and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research Centre tried to answer in a study a few years ago.
They evaluated two automated recording systems to see what kind of job they did for the first 61 days when new cattle were in a feedlot.
Typically, about 16 per cent of cattle coming into a feedlot will develop BRD and the study found early detection can save significant dollars — but not enough.
In a typical situation, the automated systems worked out to be more expensive by $9.61 per steer. That gap grew even wider when low-risk cattle were involved and even if the incidence of BRD exceeded 47 per cent, the automated system was still $4 per steer more costly.
Of course, that could change as systems come down in price or if feedlots figure out other ways to leverage the feeding system data to improve productivity.