PrecisionBeef

Lead Research Organisation: SRUC
Department Name: Research

Abstract

There is ever-increasing financial pressure in the UK beef sector due to volatile feed prices, consumer requirements for cheaper produce and competitive beef imports from abroad. Optimising animal productivity is critical to maintaining a competitive and sustainable UK beef industry with production efficiency the greatest single opportunity to reduce primary production costs. At present, there is considerable inefficiency in the UK beef sector which increases variable farm costs, reduces the yearly capacity of beef finishing units, and reduces profitability due to sub-optimal marketing of animals. These inefficiencies are estimated to reduce overall profitability of the UK beef production industry by approximately £500M per year (Morrisons estimate based on their experience from their integrated beef supply chain). The reduced revenue associated with these inefficiencies arise for three main reasons: (1) retaining cattle on-farm beyond the optimum point of marketability leading to extra feed, bedding and fixed costs; (2) reductions in sale revenue due to these over-finished cattle being out of desired specification (i.e. too fat) and (3) loss of productivity and efficiency due to poor animal health.

From a biological perspective it has been shown that there is a large between-animal variation in feed efficiency; early results from the TSB-funded Net Feed Efficiency project (BIG/NFE), have suggested a variance of up to 30 percent in feed efficiency of groups of growing and finishing cattle of the same age/breed/sex. The differences between groups of more divergent genotypes might reasonably be expected to be greater still. Profitability and efficiency are also inhibited by illness, with efficiency often dropping well in advance of any clinical signs of illness.

In practice, it is difficult for farmers to measure the performance efficiency of individual animals. Currently, animal growth and performance is determined through visual assessment or by weighing theanimals. However, growth rates alone are not a measure of efficiency; in order to calculate efficiency of individual animals an accurate measurement of feed input is also required.

The project addresses some of the key challenges facing the sustainable intensification of beef. The overall aim is to develop a state-of-the art solution for beef farmers to optimise the efficiency of their businesses. At the core of the project is the development of a near infra-red (NIR) system to characterise feed (dry matter content, nutritional composition) as it exits a feeder wagon. Also pivotal to the project is the development of animal-mounted sensors to measure feeding behaviour (eating and rumination patterns). The bulk feed characteristics will be integrated with the feeding behaviour data with a target of providing a robust, accurate and innovative method of determining individual animal feed intake. The final solution will be a cloud-based decision support platform integrating individual animal feed intake and behaviour data, with measures of animal performance e.g. growth rates. This will provide the support tools necessary to quantify performance and efficiency of individual animals and improve the sustainability of the production process. It is anticipated that by closely monitoring individual animals using the system proposed in this project, the finishing period of the animal will be reduced on average by 14 days, while animals performing poorly due to illness will be flagged up to the farmer allowing for earlier intervention.

Technical Summary

Optimising animal productivity is critical to maintaining a competitive and sustainable UK beef industry with production efficiency the greatest single opportunity to reduce primary production costs. There is considerable inefficiency in the beef sector which increases variable farm costs, reduces the yearly capacity of finishing units, and reduces profitability due to sub-optimal marketing of animals. The reduced revenue associated with these inefficiencies arise for 3 main reasons; (1) retaining cattle on-farm beyond the optimum point of marketability leading to extra feed, bedding and fixed costs; (2) reductions in sale revenue due to these over-finished cattle being out of desired specification; (3) loss of productivity and efficiency due to poor animal health.
The aim is to develop a state-of-the art solution for beef farmers to optimise their business efficiency. At the core of the project is the development of a near infra-red (NIR) system to characterise feed (dry matter content, nutritional composition) as it exits a feeder wagon. Also pivotal to the project is the development of animal-mounted sensors to measure feeding behaviour (eating and rumination patterns). The bulk feed characteristics will be integrated with the feeding behaviour data with a target of providing a robust, accurate and innovative method of determining individual animal feed intake. The final solution will be a cloud-based decision support platform integrating individual animal feed intake and behaviour data, with measures of animal performance. This will provide the support tools necessary to quantify performance and efficiency of individual animals and improve the sustainability of the production process. It is anticipated that by closely monitoring individual animals using the proposed system, the finishing period of the animal will be reduced on average by 14 days, while animals performing poorly dues to illness will be flagged up to the farmer allowing for earlier intervention.

Planned Impact

The following areas will benefit from the proposed research:

1. UK beef producers
a. The proposed system will allow farmers to identify inefficient and poorly performing animals and help them to make informed decisions to increase the overall efficiency of their beef production unit.
b. The system will allow farmers to accurately measure the composition of the diet given to each group of animals and allow for more accurate formation of diets to fulfil the nutritional requirements of the animals.
c. Use of the proposed system will allow the farmer to optimally market their animals (i.e. to meet optimum market specification). This will reduce the number of animals kept on farm beyond their optimal point of marketability, thus reducing finishing times on average. This will reduce the variable costs associated with beef production (such as feeding and bedding) and allow for a higher throughput of animals through finishing units, thus optimising the productive output and improving the economics of their business. It will also prevent abattoir cost-penalties associated with over-finished (i.e. too fat) animals.
d. As the UK commercial partners will have first access to the technology they will be the first to benefit. Reducing farm costs should increase the competitiveness of the UK beef industry and make their products more competitive against foreign competitors.

2. Meat processers
a. By sourcing animals from producers using the proposed system, meat processers will receive animals which are optimally finished, with more desirable carcass conformation and fat grades and killing-out percentage. This will lead to more efficient processing with reduced labour requirements to trim fat from over-fat animals and reduce costs associated with fat disposal.
b. Sourcing animals finished using this system will also allow for increased uniformity of the product for retail, as the animals will be marketed at the optimal market specification.

3. Consumers
a. The use of this system will likely result in cheaper beef being available to the consumer as variable costs during the production process will be reduced.
b. Cheaper UK beef will make it easier for consumers to choose local products over foreign alternatives.

4. The UK
a. The technological systems proposed will enhance the economic efficiency of UK beef production, thus increasing the sectors competitiveness over imported beef and guaranteeing the sustainability of the UK beef industry.
b. Reduced production costs and efficient production methods could enhance the reputation of UK beef and increase the value of UK beef exports.
c. There will be a reduced environmental footprint from more efficient beef production, reduced farm resources and reduced abattoir waste. The quantity of beef produced per unit of greenhouse gas will be reduced.
d. Increasing the profitability of the UK beef farming sector will lead to social benefits including enhanced rural employment.

5. Animal welfare
a. Increased monitoring of animal performance will allow for poorly performing animals to be identified earlier. Poor performance often manifests through ill health, often before the clinical signs of illness become apparent. Therefore, the use of this system will allow for illnesses to be detected and treated earlier, thus reducing the negative impacts of illness (in cost and waste).

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project has developed animal-mounted (collar-mounted) sensor technology for the beef production sector to predict eating and rumination behaviours on an individual animal basis. We have quantified for the first time the degree of precision that individual animal feed intake can be estimated from feeding time budgets measured using animal-mounted technology. We are progressing this work to calculate the feed efficiency, using integrated data streams (feeding behaviour, feed characterisation and growth) which was in essence, the goal behind the project. While there remains work to be done to improve on the overall prediction accuracy, we have demonstrated that high performing animals can be identified within the herd using animal-mounted technology and integrated data. This aligns entirely with what was proposed within the application and is of strong interest to industry partners Afimilk , Harbro and Keenan.
Exploitation Route This project has developed a solution which can be directly applied to the industry to improve overall efficiency and sustainability of the beef production sector. Uptake will rely on effective dissemination. Throughout the entire duration of this project, the project team have been engaged in disseminating the project findings through various mechanisms (open days, workshops, industry events, scientific meetings, media, demonstration farms) which should continue beyond project completion. We have been engaging with the Agri-EPI centre to install the developed technology on their wide network of satellite farms throughout the UK and internationally (e.g. New Zealand, Paraguay, China) and this is ongoing. This provides an excellent platform to demonstrate the benefits of the proposed system on commercial farms. Scientific dissemination is important through the publication of results in peer reviewed journals. This is an industry led project, and as such the publication of results has been commercially sensitive. We now have a strong publication plan in place with full support from the academic and industry partners in the project. We are now nearing the end of this project and we plan to submit these papers 12-24 months post-project.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description This project has validated animal-mounted sensor estimates of animal behavioural states such as eating and rumination. Collars-mounted sensors are now sold commercially across the UK and internationally to inform on feeding behaviour of individual animals (beef and dairy cattle). This is providing an important health alert and early warning system for producers. We are now in the final stages of algorithm development for feed intake (using integrated data streams) which will inform on individual animal feed efficiency within a herd which has huge economic and environmental implications.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

 
Description SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE RESEARCH INNOVATION CLUB (SARIC)
Amount £202,100 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P008011/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 08/2018
 
Description Agri-EPI Centre Ltd 
Organisation Cranfield University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Successfuly bid for one of the new UK Centres for Agricultural Innovation
Collaborator Contribution Jont lead
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Agri-EPI Centre Ltd 
Organisation Harper Adams University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Assimilated into a joint bid for funding into the UK Centres of Agriculural Innovation call and were successful
Collaborator Contribution Joint leads
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Measuring beef performance variabilty across New Zealand 
Organisation Massey University
Country New Zealand 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Massey University are engaging with technology developed within Precision Beef (and other projects that Carol-Anne Duthie and Dave Ross have been directly involved in) to monitor the performance efficiency of the beef and dairy sectors across New Zealand. Alongside some innovate UK funds, this has facilitated a new active collaboration between SRUC and Massey University.
Collaborator Contribution This collaboration with Massey University has provided access to a network of researchers working in different farming systems in New Zealand, access to new ideas and different technologies and access to a network of farms in New Zealand to apply and demonstrate the developments achieved within our own research activities in the UK.
Impact This is a new collaboration and as such there are no outputs so far. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary involving the following partners: SRUC (animal science, UK beef and dairy production systems, precision livestock farming, data analytics); Massey University (Animal science, pasture management, New Zealand farming systems, precision technologies for agriculture); University of Strathclyde (electronics and engineering); Innovent Technologies Ltd (3D imaging systems); afimilk (animal-mounted sensors) and Gallaghers (animal handling and automated weighing systems).
Start Year 2018
 
Description Writtle University College 
Organisation Writtle College
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A direct result of this grant has allowed a new collaboration between ourselves (SRUC) and Writtle University College. Each bring skills associated with different technologies and a common interest in solving important challenges across the beef and dairy sectors - specifically losses around poor calving's. This has allowed for the integration of different technologies, which would not have occurred without this new working relationship. The research team at SRUC have contributed long-standing skills in the use of animal-mounted sensors (in this case specifically related to accelerometry) in predicting important features of the animal (activity monitoring, feeding behaviours, tail raise behaviours). SRUC have facilitated the involvement of commercial company afimilk whom SRUC have a long-standing history in working with to develop the silent herdsman platform. SRUC have also provided access to their state-of-the art research farm facilities and research/technical expertise.
Collaborator Contribution The research team at Writtle university college have provided expertise in the area of positional location and have facilitated the involvement of commercial company Omnisense who have provided access to their multi-sensor technology platform. The integration of multiple data streams from different platforms (Omnisense and Afimilk) are being used to improve and optimise our predictions of calving to overcome the huge losses we see at calving. Writtle university college have provided access to a commercial dairy unit for testing of the multi-sensor platform.
Impact This research project is in the early stages with promising results. However, these are not ready for wider dissemination.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Agritours visit to SRUC's beef and sheep research centre - virginiatech students 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Visit to SRUC's beef and sheep research centre for undergraduate students from virginiatech to understand SRUCs research activity in beef and sheep production systems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Biosensing in Livestock - Knowedge Transfer workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Keynote presentation on novel methods of precision measurement for livestock
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description European Association of Animal Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote talk at European Conference, since led to mutiple European contacts and and interest in project activity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.eaap2015.org/
 
Description Host - visitors from ICAR (International Committee for Animal Recording) conference to SRUC to dicuss Precision tools for livestock producers - 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Hosted a visit for delegates of the International committee on animal recording (ICAR) to demonstrate and discuss and present the precision livestock farming developments taking place at SRUC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Interview with reporter (Western Poducer, Canada) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Visit and Interview for Western Producer, Canada's largest farm newspaper. Barbara Duckworth (reporter) prepared a news article following discussions with Carol-Anne Duthie titled "Data used to help producers select for efficiency".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invitation to presenting to QMS sheep strategy group and board member meetings 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation of SRUC's research activity, particularly in precision livestock farming to both QMS sheep strategy group and board members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited conference speaker - European Association of Animal Production 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An invited talk was presented to the precision livestock farming session at the European Association of Animal Production (EAAP) in Tallin, Estonia 2017. This provided an international platform to present SRUC's research activity in the development and application of precision tools for the ruminant sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited talk for Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) event: Emerging Imaging Technologies in Agri-Food Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact KTN organised a workshop in January 2018 to bring together experts from the imaging and agri-food sectors to discuss industry needs, technological gaps and potential opportunities for emerging imaging technologies in agri-food. In addition to participation in this workshop, Carol-Anne Duthie presented SRUC's research in the development and application of precision tools for the livestock sector (ruminant and monogastrics).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Involvedment in Innovate UK's expert mission in agritech to new zealand 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Carol-Anne Duthie joined a small delegation organised by KTN with funding from Innovate UK to understand the research landscape in new Zealand, challenges in agriculture within new zealand and opportunities for collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Participation - Workshop on Data flow from livestock sensors to improve meat safety, animal health and welfare and productivity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact FSA organised event (invite only). Participated in engaging discussions to (I) identifying what combination of parameters would give the best predictive power about the health status of an animal, e.g. to allow targeted interventions by abattoir managers and officials. Understanding current methods of detection for the parameters identified, with a particular focus on sensor and data analysis technologies, but also exploring other relevant technologies. Developing ways to detect and measure identified parameters. ii) Establish optimal methods to connect data from sensors on groups of animals to veterinary records (e.g. feed intake, feed composition, breeding data, veterinary medicines, etc.) and abattoirs. Developing a model to easily integrate the data, ensuring continuous flow of information to enable changes to be introduced, e.g. in farm husbandry practices, abattoir interventions, official controls, etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Participation in workshop for EU funded project smartcow, presentation of SRUC's precision livestock farming research activity. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Participation in EU funded workshop / study tour - SmartCow consortium which represents international members. Stakeholders from a range of international agriculture companies were present including national media. Study tour involved a presentation on a range of SRUC's research activities and visit to SRUC's research facilities (beef, sheep and dairy).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Precision Agriculture delegation organised by the Science and Innovation Network: British High Commission, Delhi 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Participated in an event where SRUC hosted a Precision Agriculture delegation organised by the Science and Innovation Network: British High Commission, Delhi.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Royal Highland Show - Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Royal Highland Show (Edinburgh, Scotland) is one of the highlights of the agricultural calendar in the UK, and every year SRUC actively participate in this event. Staff members from SRUC showcase the research, education and consulting divisions. Myself and team members actively engage in this event to promote and discuss the research we do to the general public aswell as the farming industry and policy makers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016
 
Description Student visit to SRUC's beef and sheep research centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Undergraduate student visit from Glynllifon Agricultural College, North Wales to SRUC's beef and sheep research centre to understand research activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Use of Sensors and Communication Devices in Agriculture workshop - participation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Satellite Applications Catapult held a workshop on current farming practices involving data gathering and processing. It will also describe communications technologies used to transfer in-field data to the internet. SRUC research activities were covered in presentations provided at the event. Approx 80 individuals from across academia and industry attended the event, which facilitated collaborative discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Visit to SRUC's beef and sheep research centre fro the planetary health alliance 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Visit of members of the planetary health alliance to SRUC's beef and sheep research centre.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description participation and invited talk - KTN workshop on robotics and artifical intelligence in the agri-food sector 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participation in KTN organised workshop on robotics and artificial intelligence in the agri-tech sector. Invited talk to discuss challenges associated with livestock production in the UK and how technology can be used to overcome some of these challenges.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018