Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Fitbits for Livestock

Fitbit-like sensors are being tested on farms across Australia to provide insights into the health, well-being and behaviours of cattle and sheep – even individual animals on very large-scale farms.

“In the past, farmers got to know the habits of their individual animals,” explains Dr Aniruddha Desai of La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion. “However, with large-scale farming, that is now impossible and current systems such as video monitoring are highly inaccurate.”

The La Trobe study has been carried out over the past 3 years on a dairy farm, a sheep farm and a beef farm. “Our work has shown the potential of such technology to address important industry problems in Australia, such as high lamb mortality rate in sheep and improving feed efficiency and pasture utilisation in both dairy and beef industries,” said the program’s science leader, Dr Markandeya Jois.

The researchers measured behaviours such as biting, chewing, and ruminating and then analysed them, correlating the results with growth and health metrics of the cow. With beef cattle, this helps farmers understand the causes of poor growth during the winter months and develop intervention strategies.

“Response from the farmers with whom we’ve worked has been unanimously positive, and we are now seeking commercial partners to help make this technology a reality,” Desai said.