Considerable effort goes into developing technology to improve cattle production, but North Dakota producers want to know whether it will work for them before investing in it.
“The question is, are there technologies out there that can provide us with options to manage the cattle over their lifetime?” says Carl Dahlen, an associate professor and reproductive physiologist in NDSU’s Animal Sciences Department. Dahlen, NDSU Beef Cattle Research Complex (BCRC) manager Sarah Underdahl, Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (CGREC) animal scientist Michael Undi, CGREC research technician Stephanie Becker and graduate student Kacie McCarthy developed the Mobile Cow Command Center (MCCC) to find answers.
The MCCC is a small solar-powered portable trailer that combines two commercially available technologies: the SmartFeed system, which is designed to control feed intake in cattle, and CowManager, a radio-frequency identification ear tag system that monitors cow activity and reproductive and health status.
The team tested two MCCC units at the CGREC in 2018.
“We were evaluating what the technology was telling us, compared with what we were seeing from our normal, routine management observations,” Dahlen says.
One of the issues the researchers wanted to determine is whether the two technologies work in an expansive pasture environment. The study involved 60 heifers. Some received a mineral supplement, some received an energy-based supplement and a third group did not have access to either supplement.
“The feeding system was really good at doing what it was supposed to do,” Dahlen reports.
However, the technology that provided alerts when the heifers were ready to breed or were ill was unreliable.
“We had a bunch of false estrus and health alerts,” Dahlen says.
The team also tested the CowManager system on heifers in confinement at the BCRC in 2019.
“It seems to be more accurate there, but the system was developed for cattle in confinement,” Dahlen says.