"Optimising animal productivity is critical to maintaining a competitive and sustainable UK beef industry with production efficiency the greatest single opportunity to reduce primary production costs. There is considerable inefficiency in the beef sector which increases variable farm costs, reduces the yearly capacity of finishing units, and reduces profitability due to sub-optimal marketing of animals. The reduced revenue associated with these inefficiencies arise for 3 main reasons; (1) retaining cattle on-farm beyond the optimum point of marketability leading to extra feed, bedding and fixed costs; (2) reductions in sale revenue due to these over-finished cattle being out of desired specification; (3) loss of productivity and efficiency due to poor animal health.
The aim is to develop a state-of-the art solution for beef farmers to optimise their business efficiency. At the core of the project is the development of a near infra-red (NIR) system to characterise feed (dry matter content, nutritional composition) as it exits a feeder wagon. Also pivotal to the project is the development of animal-mounted sensors to measure feeding behaviour (eating and rumination patterns). The bulk feed characteristics will be integrated with the feeding behaviour data with a target of providing a robust, accurate and innovative method of determining individual animal feed intake. The final solution will be a cloud-based decision support platform integrating individual animal feed intake and behaviour data, with measures of animal performance. This will provide the support tools necessary to quantify performance and efficiency of individual animals and improve the sustainability of the production process. It is anticipated that by closely monitoring individual animals using the proposed system, the finishing period of the animal will be reduced on average by 14 days, while animals performing poorly dues to illness will be flagged up to the farmer allowing for earlier intervention."