Remote monitoring of calving could be a game changer

A system that allows calving to be remotely monitored could potentially reduce calf loss and improve incomes for northern beef producers.

Two Department of Primary Industry and Resources researchers travelled to Florida in February to work with researchers from the University of Florida on a project investigating the causes of calf mortality and learn about a new system to remotely monitor calving.

They are using birthing sensors that send a signal to researchers alerting them calving has occured and are also tagging calves with movement sensors and tracking devices that allow them to identify when calves die, and find dead calves.

Tim Schatz, Principal Pastoral Production Research Officer, and Dr Kieren McCosker, Beef Production Scientist, spent a week at the University of Florida where they gained understanding and valuable experience with the technology being used by the University of Florida researchers, and saw how it might be able to be used in the Northern Territory to study calf mortality.

Through seeing the equipment in action and gaining experience in using it they were able to see how the technology could be utilised under Territory conditions and assist in investigating the issues surrounding calf mortality, which are commonly experienced by the Northern Territory pastoral industry.

Calf loss is a major source of lost income for northern beef producers and it has been estimated that neonatal calf loss costs North Australian cattle producers in excess of $53 million annually.

“The large size and remoteness of cattle stations in northern Australia means it has been difficult to investigate and improve calf loss using traditional methods as calving females and dead calves are difficult to find in large paddocks,” Mr Schatz said.

“Close observation during calving can also disturb animals, alter behaviour and in some cases may even exacerbate the problem.

“The technology and methods being used by the University of Florida researchers should allow us to identify when and where cows calve and this will greatly improve our ability to study the causes of calf loss. For the most part, the system developed and used by the University of Florida researchers will be transferable, although some modifications are required due to the larger paddock size and reduced mobile phone coverage in the NT.

“But these issues can be resolved fairly easily by using extra antennas mounted on towers and either boosting mobile phone signal at the tower site or sending the data via another method.

“This could be a game changer for research into calf loss in northern Australia.”

Mr Schatz and Dr McCosker did identify that the current method of locating expelled birth sensors and new calves is likely to be inadequate in the larger paddocks of the NT and so the birth sensors will need a GPS feature. However, the company that produces the devices has already added this feature to the next model of devices and is just awaiting approval for their use.

The research trip was funded by Meat and Livestock Australia.

Tim Schatz uses a yagi antenna to locate a calf fitted with a VHF tag
Tim Schatz uses a yagi antenna to locate a calf fitted with a VHF tag