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Automating welfare measurements and interventions for Northern Australia beef cattle

Did you know an automated livestock management system can separate calves from cows with an 83% success rate?

Project start date: 01 July 2018
Project end date: 09 September 2019
Publication date: 23 December 2019
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grassfed cattle
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Calves on remote stations are generally not mustered and are weaned younger than six months of age, which reduces the ability for producers to do animal welfare checks during the first few months after birth.

This project developed a purpose-built automated livestock management system (ALMS) to separate calves from cows in the paddock, to provide producers with access to calves at a younger age. Producers were involved in developing the system to ensure it would be useful in a commercial setting to encourage industry uptake.

The results of this proof-of-concept study identified there is great potential for an ALMS to successfully operate in remote locations, with 83% of calves effectively separated from cows. The study also outlines the importance of training calves to use the ALMS from an early age to enhance future use.


This project aimed to:

  • develop a practical on-farm ALMS to facilitate the adoption of early calf husbandry practices
  • produce a literature review to assess the use of an ALMS to validate animal welfare parameters
  • collaborate with producers to obtain information on current husbandry practices and challenges with calf welfare to inform research findings and the evaluation of the prototype ALMS.

Key findings

  • The new ALMS technology successfully separated 83% of calves from their mothers into a pen.
  • Calves were an average of 34.6 days old when they first used the system.
  • Calves that used the ALMS within 15 days of age were 13 times more likely to use the system again compared to calves aged between 16 and 50 days old at the time of their first entry.
  • Cows tended not to train their calves to use the ALMS without some sort of manual intervention from humans.
  • After seeing the ALMS demonstration, almost 60% of surveyed producers were interested in installing the technology.

Benefits to industry

The greatest benefit of the ALMS is the ability to monitor body weight to guide management decisions, such as identifying cattle ready for market and automatically separating calves that are ready to be weaned.

Implementing an ALMS could also save labour by reducing the need to muster cattle, and improve productivity and animal welfare benefits as cattle would not need to be walked for kilometres or held off-pasture while in yards.

MLA action

MLA has shared this results of this project with industry and helped establish collaborative networks between the researchers and other partners in MLA's Animal Welfare Strategic Partnership program.

Collaboration between these researchers and producers has resulted in value-adding to other, ongoing Animal Welfare Strategic Partnership projects, including;

  • Reducing mortality rates in beef and sheep enterprises
  • Objective, robust, real-time animal welfare measures for the Australian red meat industry.

Future research

Further studies evaluating the costs and benefits of various management and productivity applications are required. These studies will determine the value ALMS can deliver through increased labour efficiency, improved productivity, increased returns and enhanced animal health and welfare.

More information

Project manager: Christine Purdy
Primary researcher: Central Queensland University