Research Impact

QRIScloud-Powered App To Increase Profitability Of Australia’s Cattle Industry

Dave SwainRunning a cattle farm in northern Australia is challenging. The harsh environmental conditions, vast geographical expanse and remoteness can make it tough for farmers to return a good profit on their stock.

Over the years, beef producers in the region have realised the key to profitability is cattle fertility rates and the genetic hardiness of their stock.

With a small team of researchers, CQUniversity Professor of Agriculture Dave Swain has invented and developed ground-breaking new animal monitoring systems that link biology with technology, combining automated livestock management hardware, such as weighing systems, with cutting-edge software so that beef producers have a precise understanding of individual animal performance.

The Web application, called DataMuster, integrates on-farm weigh scales (known as walk-over-weighing systems), which capture the daily weights of individual cattle as they walk to water troughs, and sophisticated analysis systems to deliver real-time information about individual animals and infrastructure, direct to a mobile app.

DataMuster automates the process of collecting daily information on every animal on a property so farmers can make informed decisions to improve cattle genetics, cattle management and supply chain management.

Data is automatically analysed on the farm using small micro-computers, called Raspberry Pi units, and transmitted to QRIScloud, which provides the server to run the app.

QRIScloud also hosts the data that is automatically collected from the remote farms using the DataMuster system. There is currently about 10 GB of data, with a total 5 TB allocation in QRIScloud. Low bandwidth technology is used to overcome remote internet access issues.

“With the fully integrated DataMuster system, graziers will be able to monitor their property, each of their animals and even the amount of water in remote troughs, all in real-time from the homestead,” said Prof. Swain.

"This will not only improve their profitability by cutting down on labour costs, it will improve their herd management decisions by providing them with information on cattle weight and suitability for market, whether or not a cow is pregnant, when she has calved, and vital genetic data such as the maternal parentage, reproductive efficiency and growth rates.

“We’ve been working on the DataMuster platform in various forms for the last 10 or 15 years. We’re really excited now to have got it to a stage where we can actually make it available for producers.”

DataMuster is currently seeking commercial partners and users, and the first commercial DataMuster systems were rolled out to customers late last month.

The app’s pilot trial began in early 2017, on six farms and at the Belmont research station, which is run as a commercial property and provides researchers with a test bed for sensor equipment.

Central Queensland cattle producer Geoff Maynard’s stock was used in the trial. “Most people now realise one of the most productive traits in northern Australia is fertility. We’re seeing the data that we’re collecting with CQUni and their walk-over weighing really helps us collate very intensive measurements that give us an indication of the quickest re-breeders and the more fertile cattle in the herd. Any technology that can help get those accurate measurements to then validate and collate with the genomic information will be incredibly important,” said Maynard.

An added benefit of the pilot trial was opening the flow of phenotypic data from DataMuster to the industry’s genetic analysis system Breedplan.

When shown DataMuster at this year’s Beef Australia Expo in Rockhampton, primary producer Michael Lyons could immediately see its potential. “Being able to identify when cattle are [fertility] cycling, will be really useful. And because we’re running a seedstock [breeding cattle] operation in a fairly extensive environment, if we can use that to get an idea of calving dates, that’d be amazing,” he said.

Also at the Expo, Mark Collins of AgForce Queensland, a peak organisation representing Queensland's rural producers, said: “The DataMuster data and what it provides to industry and the collection of that data is really of utmost importance to our industry. It’s these sorts of profitability drivers that allow producers out there to put real dollars back in their pockets.”

For the producer, DataMuster will help ensure more beef is produced per hectare, bolstering the bottom line and the nation’s export returns; for the consumer, it means industry can select genetics that are known to produce tender beef; and for the environment, including the Great Barrier Reef, it will reduce the amount of grazing pressure on ground cover and waterways.

More than a decade in the making, the DataMuster project’s initial problem was enabling automated processing of Internet of Things data collected from remote locations. QRIScloud helped overcome this issue, providing a flexible Linux-based operating system that allowed the research team to automate data collection and processing, and integrate a wide range of different data sources.

Read more on our QRIScloud website

This article was first published on the QRIScloud website in August 2018.