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Real-time monitoring of livestock, vegetation, environment and management in the dry tropic: CSIRO Lansdown Research Station

González, L.A., Bishop-Hurley, G.J., McGavin, S., Crossman, C., Handcock, R.N. and Charmley, E. (2011) Real-time monitoring of livestock, vegetation, environment and management in the dry tropic: CSIRO Lansdown Research Station. In: Northern Beef Research Update Conference (NBRUC) 2011, 2 - 5 August 2011, Darwin, NT.


Beef cattle production in the Northern Australian rangelands is usually characterized by large paddocks with large herds and little human intervention. Furthermore, there is often considerable variation across and within paddocks and mobs. Productivity and sustainability can be reduced due to difficulties in managing these systems in a precise and efficient way, in addition to the detrimental effects of environmental stressors on livestock (e.g. heat, parasites, diseases, nutritional and water deficiencies). Novel technologies may help in overcoming some of these limitations by allowing detailed monitoring of livestock, vegetation, environment and management.

CSIRO is developing novel technologies and tools to work as an integrated Precision Livestock Management System at the Lansdown Research Station in Townsville (Qld). Sensors are being deployed to monitor each component of the beef cattle production system, i.e. livestock, vegetation, environment and management. The objective of this work is to identify which characteristics to measure, what methods to use, and to develop tools that could be incorporated into Precision Livestock Management Systems (PLM) for the northern rangelands.

PLMS are expected to improve productivity, sustainability, animal health and welfare, social life in rural communities, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions including climate change. For example, animal monitoring could improve productivity if the characteristics measured are related to growth rate, feed utilisation efficiency and reproductive efficiency, and if they allow for the improvement of management and selection of individuals and herds. For instance, work presented in this congress has reported a close relationship between distance travelled per day and growth rate. Thus, distance travelled could be used as an indicator of the degree of success of individuals or management practices. Further research is being considered to identify other relationships between grazing ecology measurements and production outcomes and animal health and welfare.

The group has been, and it is currently, carrying out numerous projects to improve environmental sustainability. Automated animal movement control collars have successfully been used to limit the utilisation of environmentally sensitive areas (e.g. riparian areas) to reduce erosion, and therefore improve water quality. Automatic monitoring of behaviour using GPS collars has also increased our knowledge about resource selection and helped develop strategies that, for example, discourage animals from using riparian areas or encourage better grazing distribution and pasture utilisation rates. Pasture monitoring sensors (such as satellite images and proximal sensors) have been developed to autonomously measure forage quantity and coverage. These technologies are allowing the development of novel ways to improve grazing management and environmental stewardship.

Environmental monitoring, including sensors for real-time temperature and humidity measurements, is allowing us to quantify the effects of climate change on both cattle and pastures. Water quality and soil condition will be measured and integrated into the system to develop tools that allow the industry to respond to climate change in a timely manner.

Ultimately, the goal is to integrate the technologies described above into an end-to-end system to improve productivity, sustainability and the ability to adapt to ever changing conditions. Many of these technologies are being deployed at the Lansdown Research Station (near Townsville) using wireless sensor networks and information technologies. This facility will provide researchers from a diverse range of disciplines with the facilities to advance the scientific knowledge of cattle production systems in northern Australia and to help face the challenges of coming decades.

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