Monitoring Herd Health, Feeding Behavior May Soon Be Easier

ARS researchers develop ear tag system to monitor feeding habits and overall health of swine, feeder cattle herds

Published on: Aug 2, 2013

A new system that monitors livestock feeding behavior has been developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Service Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

Ag engineers Tami Brown-Brandl and Roger Eigenberg designed the program, which incorporates standard radio-frequency identification technology and a commercial reader to monitor animals' eating habits. The system is designed to work in an industry setting by using electronic ear tags as monitoring devices.

Scientists are using the data collected to determine the normal day-to-day variation in feeding behavior—the amount of time each animal spends eating, the number of eating events per day, and the timing of those events.

ARS researchers develop ear tag system to monitor feeding habits and overall health of swine, feeder cattle herds
ARS researchers develop ear tag system to monitor feeding habits and overall health of swine, feeder cattle herds

By determining an animal's normal eating behavior, it might be easier to detect a sick animal when it starts spending less time at the feeder, ARS said. These animals can then be treated early to help prevent severe illness.

Information gathered might also be used to improve management and establish genetic differences within a herd, according to the researchers.

The system, which is relatively low-cost, USDA said, was first used to monitor feedlot cattle and has been adapted to swine operations. Individual animal feeding behavior can be measured without any outside influence, Brown-Brandl said.

In one study, antennas were mounted on standard swine feeders in six pens that each held 40 pigs. In addition to collecting feeding behavior data, video cameras were used to evaluate the durability of the system, which was shown to be dependable.

Scientists plan to use the system in future studies to examine feeding behavior as it relates to age, gender, weight gain and the health of animals.

Read more about the study in USDA ARS' Agricultural Research magazine.