Livestock data research project working closely with grower groups in WA

The Livestock Data Analytics project, led by Dr. Dean Thomas at CSIRO, demonstrates a successful collaboration between grower groups and researchers, and highlights the importance of establishing and maintaining strong industry networks.

Dr. Thomas approached the Grower Group Alliance (GGA) in 2015 in an effort to reach grower groups willing to participate in a CSIRO Agriculture funded project, looking to evaluate livestock monitoring systems used in mixed sheep and cropping enterprises. Through their communication channels, the GGA made a call for expressions of interest from grower groups to become involved in the research, and received an overwhelming response. As a result, three trial sites were selected from Facey Group, West Midlands Group and MADFIG, with these trials finishing up at the end of 2015. Another two trials are set to commence in February 2016 involving West Midlands Group and the West Arthur Trials Group. A final trial is in the pipeline for later in the year at the UWA Ridgefield Farm site.

During the research trials, GPS trackers were fixed on a number of sheep within a mob grazing wheat stubble. The animals’ grazing activities were tracked over a period of about four weeks, in addition to liveweight measurements and sampling of the crop stubbles. With data collected from the different farms across different districts, and from farmer feedback, the project aims to identify the practical benefits that these types of livestock monitoring systems can have on management.

Sheep carrying trackers during a livestock monitoring trial

“The tracking system allows us to monitor the movements of the sheep as they graze crop stubble in a paddock, giving us insights into their behaviour and preferences” explains Dr. Thomas. “The potential long-term benefits of this information include such things as the development of alert systems, and better management of animal rotations between different paddocks and feed sources”. He emphasizes, however, that the full use of animal behaviour to inform management will likely require complex data analytics, another area that is currently being studied by other CSIRO researchers.

Growers interested in viewing the data collected in the project are able to view the GPS tracking information in “near-real-time’ online, through a secure website.  To access the resource, viewers are first asked to participate in a short online survey which will enable the project team to benchmark current industry understanding and practices in relation to monitoring grazing livestock. There is also the opportunity to make general comments on the system through a web forum where feedback is welcomed.

“We have received great support and some interesting feedback via the online system” says Dr. Thomas. “There has been lots of interest in the trials, and we are looking forward to getting as much feedback as possible from the trials starting in February”.

Outcomes from the trial and surveys will be reported through industry and research publications later in 2016. Results from the trials will lead to new funding proposals that CSIRO will take to industry to accelerate the development of a livestock monitoring system for mixed crop-livestock enterprises towards a commercial product.

Some preliminary results and a discussion around the project will be presented at the West Midlands Group Seasonal Updates in February.

If you would like to view the online data and participate in the collection of valuable industry information through completing the survey visit the CSIRO survey page. Once the survey is complete, you will be sent login details via email within 24 hours as well as the link to the website.

For more information about the trial or survey, contact Dr. Dean Thomas T: (08) 9333 6671, E: Dean.Thomas@csiro.au.

If you would like the GGA to support your collaborative research idea contact the office on (08) 61805759.