Animal Sciences Bullish about on-Animal Sensors Project with Australia’s CQUniversity

July 20, 2021
A bellowing bull wears an on-animal sensor that picks up even small changes in activity.

One of several aspects of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recently signed with CFAES and Central Queensland University (CQU) is research utilizing GPS and accelerometer technology to monitor the health and performance of beef bulls a project funded through the American Association of Bovine Practitioners Foundation.  

Bulls are critically important to the American and Australian beef industry. In the US, more than 90% of operations use exclusively natural service breeding. In these systems, a very important aspect is that bulls must breed with cows of the entire herd in a timely manner because that will determine the efficiency of production and economic viability of the farm.  To ensure bulls are effective with breeding, a breeding soundness exam (BSE) is performed to ensure their reproductive, sensory, and locomotion systems are functional. While important, the BSE only provides a “snapshot” of the health of a bull. What happens if an issue develops during the breeding season and bulls cannot perform?  In extensive managed cattle, producers may never become aware of the bull problem, resulting in fewer calves and less profit for the beef enterprise.

“Beef producers simply don’t have the time to get around and check on all of their animals and pastures every day, reported Dr. Mark Trotter of CQU when he was a Fulbright Fellow at CFAES’ Department of Animal Sciences.  To solve this constraint, on-animal sensing methods are being developed. These create new opportunities to improve current management strategies in beef cattle. Unlike traditional methods of observation, on-animal sensors (OAS) can monitor behavior around the clock and are sensitive enough to detect minute changes that people do not notice. For cattle managed on extensive pastures, the herd may not be in sight for extended periods, so OASs allow for new behavioral observations.

Caleb Rykaczewski joined this project as an OSU undergraduate student, before centering his MS in Animal Sciences on OAS.  He is being directed by Dr. Alvaro Garcia-Guerra, Assistant Professor of Cattle Reproduction and Production Systems Management. 

He elaborates that “current research aims to utilize OAS to monitor bull health and performance.  We have enrolled approximately 40 bulls from the Don Scott Ohio State Beef Center, Eastern Agricultural Research Station, Jackson Agricultural Research Station, and several privately owned herds into the study. Each bull has been outfitted with a GPS collar and an accelerometer to collect data on its movement and activity during the 60-day breeding season. These data are assessed for its potential to accurately identify breeding impediments (e.g. lameness) and the association between bull activity and overall fertility of the herd.”

Animal Sciences Professor James Kinder has been liaising with International Programs in Agriculture Director Dr. Luis Cañas to further such projects between CFAES and CQU.  Kinder sums up: “Relationships are fostered that will result in multiple travel exchanges of faculty and students between the two Universities that will ultimately result in stronger relationships that are the lifeline for stimulation of faculty and students in their career endeavors.”