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Prototype development for sensor technologies to automate feedlot bunk management

Project start date: 01 June 2017
Project end date: 01 March 2018
Publication date: 01 March 2018
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grainfed cattle
Relevant regions: National
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​Feed bunk management is the process of determining feed allocation for pens of feedlot cattle for a 24-hour feeding cycle. Objectives of bunk management include consistently maximising feed intake, whilst minimising feed wastage and digestive disorders (bloat and acidosis). Bunk calling is a critically important job, and the human callers' actions directly determine feed intake and carcase weight gain of pens of feedlot cattle.

It is now feasible to automate feed bunk management with advancements in mapping, sensors, and robotics technologies. A prototype was designed and validated to quantity feed remaining in bunks at Mort & Co's Grassdale Feedlot, Queensland, Australia. The vehicle-mounted prototype's primary sensing element is based on light detection and ranging (lidar) technology. The on-board positioning solutions determine where the vehicle is in a world coordinate system. An on-board attitude solution accounts for any vehicle roll and rock and any other dynamic events to improve the quality of the data collected. The scanner has an on-board computer that measures and integrates the data as it travels along the bunk, publishing a volume of feed remaining at the end of each bunk. Given density of the different rations, feed remaining in the bunks is determined. Utilising lidar technology the bunk scanner can work in day and night conditions.

Based on the results of project, the prototype bunk scanner demonstrates exciting promise to determine feed remaining in bunks, with performance superior to human operators. Further extended campaigns of measurement are required across diverse feedlot sites to determine the robustness of the prototype versus human observation. We believe this to be a world-first application of the aforementioned technology that paves the way to objective automation of bunk management and represents a high-value outcome for the Australian feedlot industry.

More information

Project manager: Joseph McMeniman
Primary researcher: Manabotix Pty Ltd