Back to R&D main

B.FLT.1012-Evaluation of automated bunk management – feedlot cattle performance

An automated bunk management algorithm can achieve feedlot cattle performance equivalent to a highly trained bunk caller.

Project start date: 18 June 2019
Project end date: 14 November 2022
Publication date: 31 January 2023
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grain-fed Cattle
Relevant regions: NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, Eastern Australia
Download Report (0.5 MB)


Cattle performance in a feedlot setting is driven primarily by their feed intake. The amount of feed allocated to a pen of cattle is managed to optimise productivity and health while reducing feed waste. Feed intake is managed by bunk callers and requires accurate estimation of the quantity of feed remaining in a bunk following a 24-hour feeding period and consideration of several environmental, cattle, and management factors to determine feed allocation for the next 24-hour period.

Bunk calling is a complex process. The caller has to consider the diet and its fermentability, the historical feed intake, pen size, health status, and environmental conditions while modulating rumen pH and driving production. This is a considerable amount of information to evaluate quickly, and poor decisions can result in acidosis, feed wastage, a loss of potential gains from lower than optimum feed intake, and reduced profitability to the feedlot. Poor decisions can be compounded during times of staff turnover, when training new staff and even during shift changes.

The development and commercialisation of a lidar-based bunk scanner by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Manabotix Pty. Ltd. which can accurately determine the amount of feed remaining in a bunk, has enabled the expansion of a framework to automate bunk management. This world-first achievement enables automation of bunk management utilising scanning data to assist the human decision-making process.

This project determined the effect of semi-automation and full-automation of bunk management on feedlot cattle performance, health and carcase characteristics.


  • Determine the effect of semi and full automation of bunk management on feedlot cattle health and performance.
  • Determine the value proposition of semi automation and full automation of bunk management by an ex-post cost-benefit analysis.

Key findings

  • Semi and full automation of feed calling was as effective as very highly trained bunk callers in achieving cattle daily gain, feed conversion and exit weight.
  • Automation of feed calling (semi and full) did not negatively impact any animal health parameters, mortality, or economically relevant carcase value.
  • The control and semi-automation treatments had a higher DMI intake between the periods of induction and re-implant, specifically the first 20 days.
  • From re-implant to exit, the control and full-automation treatments outperformed the semi-automation treatment for feed intake (DMI).
  • Opportunities for minor algorithm refinements have been identified.

Benefits to industry

This project has demonstrated for the first time in the world that automation of bunk management can be achieved to the level of a highly trained bunk caller. Automation will likely bring improved consistency to cattle performance once commercially implemented.

MLA action

MLA has presented the results of this project to the ALFA Smart Beef and BeefEx conferences. The bunk scanner is available commercially via Manabotix Pty Ltd.

Future research

Future research will focus on minor adjustments to the algorithm framework developed in this project, and application in other market categories of feedlot cattle. Research could also be conducted in a variety of feedlots with differing bunk management skill bases.

For more information

Contact Project Manager: Joe McMeniman