AMES, Iowa -- Imagine a world where technology can be used to monitor a herd’s feed and water intake electronically, and on a per-head basis. A pioneering producer in western Iowa is doing just that.
Duane Warden, a retired doctor and owner of Warden Angus near Council Bluffs, has teamed up with the Iowa Beef Center (IBC) Iowa State University (ISU) Extension staff to develop a system that would allow the collection of individual bull feed intakes while using normal feedlot type rations. His past system would only allow the use of pelleted rations and because he only had two units, his total bull testing capacity was 25 to 30 head.
“Sometimes unusual requests come to the IBC that are just too hard to pass up,” says Daryl Strohbehn, professor of animal science. “Dr. Warden has been using and testing Angus bulls on the same system for over 20 years. Equipment maintenance and technical support has become difficult to obtain, and he came to us with this idea, which really excited us.”
Strohbehn, together with Garland Dahlke, Darrell Busby and Shawn Shouse of ISU Extension, began by exploring current technologies and systems and found virtually no equipment systems available to producers in the United States. They did find that off-the-shelf digital scale components could potentially be linked together with EID reading equipment to create a reasonable system for on-farm testing of bulls.
Two Iowa-based companies were brought into the project. Miraco, a Grinnell company, customized polyethylene feed bunks, and Scale Source Inc. of Des Moines, a distributor for Rice Lake Weighing Systems, was able to supply not only the digital scales, but also the scale indicator and associated hardware and custom software to read weights of eight scales at one time while storing all the data in memory.
Miraco teamed up with ID-ology of Eau Claire, Wisc., to embed antennas into their feed bunks, thus making a bunk which would create an electronic read field for half duplex, Alflexx® livestock electronic identification (EID) ear tags. Strohbehn notes that valuable technical support came from Robert Kleemeier and Chuck Ingle of ID-ology in linking the feed bunk antenna, the EID reader and the scale systems.
Perry ‘Bud’ Beedle, one of Warden’s herd cooperators, has built a new feeding barn which is open-fronted with a drive-through alley containing eight identical pens, which can house 8 to 10 animals per pen. Each pen contains one Miraco feed bunk /Scale Source scale unit, and a Miraco water fountain is shared by two pens. Approximately 17 square feet per head is available under roof, while the outside portion allows just over 200 square feet per head.
Strohbehn explains how the system works: “Eight polyethylene feed bunks fitted with EID antennas are mounted on electronic digital scales for continuous feed intake monitoring. Only one bull can access the feed bunk at a time. The ID readers, one per bunk, detect EIDs and send that information to the eight scale indicator which coordinates and stores information as it takes place. Utilizing wireless technology, the scale indicator supplies its daily database to a computer which then summarizes daily feed intakes using software developed by the IBC.”
“It’s not unusual for each bull to have 75 to 200 daily feeding activities recorded and stored,” says Garland Dahlke, IBC program specialist.
Beedle has aspirations of not only testing bulls for Warden, but also offering the building’s services to other breeders and companies that wish to test bulls or do research trials which need individual animal feed intakes. From a statistical standpoint, this feed intake monitoring system increases the power of research trials immensely and more than makes up for the added yardage costs incurred.
Although the research is in its infancy, Warden is excited about the possibilities. “I can now test almost three times more bulls than in the past, and increase my selection intensity for efficiency of gain,” he says.
For more information about the project, visit http://www.iowabeefcenter.org/content/fims.htm
Rachel E. Martin, Iowa Beef Center, (515) 294-9124, firstname.lastname@example.org