A new research trial in central Alberta is examining a new system for optimizing feed efficiency in livestock, according to an announcement from Country Junction Feeds.
The trial, at Pine Haven beef cattle operation, is led by nutritionists at Country Junction Feeds, along with science advisor Dr. Al Schaefer. The study involves the application of infrared thermography (IRT) technology, integrated with strategic animal nutrition expertise, to support everything from herd improvement planning to advanced precision feeding, the announcement said.
The system, now supported by years of research and patented technology, shows advantages for reducing the cost of cattle production and environmental impact while supporting continuous improvement each production cycle.
“The results we’re seeing are very promising,” said Bernie Grumpelt, livestock nutritionist with Country Junction Feeds. “With continued refinement, there is strong potential for IRT-based approaches integrated with nutrition knowledge to become a new standard for addressing feed efficiency, bringing many advantages to livestock industries.”
Though pioneered as an application for use with beef production, the technology and system model also hold potential for optimizing feed efficiency across other livestock sectors, the company said.
“The approach represents a brand new pathway to more efficient, profitable and environmentally sustainable livestock production,” Grumpelt said.
The IRT technology utilization applied with the new system is based on more than 20 years of IRT-related livestock research led by Schaefer and colleagues. This includes numerous studies identifying correlations between IRT measurements and reliable identifiers of metabolic efficiency among individual animals, according to the announcement. For example, with beef cattle, the IRT approach identifies energy loss as expressed by thermography measurements from key anatomical areas. This method has been shown to correlate with conventional efficiency measurements using residual feed intake values.
“With the application for beef cattle, we’ve developed the technology to the point where we can now take an IRT image of an animal, and by running that information through our software and database, we can quickly and reliably determine its relative metabolic efficiency or feed efficiency performance compared to other animals in the herd,” Schaefer said. “This gives the producer a fast, effective and practical tool to identify the relative efficiency of each of the animals.”
While current industry standard technologies for sorting efficiency with cattle may take 70-100 days to provide information, the new IRT-based model takes about 20 seconds per animal and delivers actionable information in real time, the researchers said. That means the technology is more accessible to commercial herds.
“The system is non-invasive and very animal friendly as well as handler friendly,” Schaefer noted. “You simply walk the animal past the IRT camera. The [radio-frequency identification] on each animal is used to trigger a Bluetooth communication to the camera, an image is taken and you’re done -- simple as that. The software does a near-instant processing of the IRT measurement data using algorithms and other database information to provide simple-to-understand results.”
Herd improvement, precision feeding
Animals can be sorted on the basis of their efficiency, with different management approaches applied for each group, the announcement said. Producers can select animals for breeding based on which are the most efficient. They can make herd improvement decisions such as culling the bottom 10% or 20%. Producers can also apply different feeding strategies with different groups of animals, knowing which approaches for each group will represent the most efficient use of resources. For example, the most efficient animals will benefit more and deliver higher returns when placed on a higher-quality diet, because they’ll gain efficiently and finish sooner.
Country Junction Feeds said this is where the integration of the IRT results with nutrition-related expertise and data comes into play, enabling advances in precision feeding. “One measurement provides sufficient information to group the animals and design feed and management strategies accordingly,” Schaefer said.
The trial underway at Pine Haven is among the latest designed to help refine the system based on evaluation in a commercial setting. It involves 195 head of cattle, which are sorted into three groups based on IRT measurements: most efficient, medium efficient and least efficient.
“The overall improvements have the potential to be quite dramatic,” Country Junction Feeds manager Darrell Kimmel said. “It all means very substantial benefits for the operation, including major advantages for the bottom line for of the producer.”
Efficiency improvements using this technology as a basis for boosting cattle feeding strategies could represent an added value for the producer. For cow/calf production, analysis indicates that by culling the lowest percent of least efficient animals, producers can run more cows on the same amount of land.
“The key right now is refining the system,” Kimmel said. “That’s what’s the team involved has been focused on recently with numerous activities, including the Pine Haven trails. We expect to begin offering the system in beta form to more operations over the remainder of the year. Over time, we believe it can play a prominent role with many operations.”