Healthy herd

Technology is making great strides in providing producers instant information to better monitor and evaluate livestock.

For livestock operations, time is money. Each additional minute working with an animal, whether it’s checking vaccination or antibiotic treatments, reviewing withdrawal protocols, or balancing feed rations, can eat into the bottom line.

When Gage Zellmer incorporated Performance Beef into his Atlantic, Iowa, operation, he was looking for a way to improve efficiency for the 5,000 head at A to Z Feeders. The system worked like a charm. He started with the feeding system developed by Performance Livestock Analytics and recently added the animal health component.

“With our old feeding system, it was incredibly complex. I spent a lot of time at the computer reviewing data and ensuring all the information was correct,” Zellmer says. “We would often find our rations would get out of balance because the underlying information was wrong. I have two employees, and the last thing they want to do is sit around and wait for feed information from me.”

The key is ensuring the rations are mixed correctly. “It only takes a few days of incorrectly mixed feeding rations to ruin a group of cattle,” he says. “Let it go too long, and it could cause severe health issues.”

Eric Bailey, assistant professor and state beef Extension specialist with the University of Missouri, says the strength of programs like Performance Beef is the wealth of information it provides producers. “With these systems, you know what is being fed, how much, and if you are on target,” he says. “In the past, a nutritionist may provide the ration, but the producer may not be implementing it correctly. Having this information available takes a lot of the guesswork and uncertainty out of the decision process.”

Ultimately, Bailey says having good rations means healthier animals. “For the animals, it’s all about consistency. Having a consistent ration and consistent feeding program improve overall herd health.”

Dane Kuper, global Performance Beef platform and strategy lead for Zoetis, and cofounder of Performance Livestock Analytics, explains that Performance Beef is a business management program for any size cattle or feedlot operation. “We developed an iPad interface to simplify creating proper feed rations for every pen and automating the daily workflow of feeding those animals effectively,” he says. “While that information can be captured in a variety of ways, from pencil and paper to a spreadsheet, our system automatically captures the data to ensure it’s accurate and make it actionable.”

Animal health component

P

erformance Livestock Analytics, part of Zoetis since April 2020, is now adding health data to its platform. With the animal health component, producers are provided health information on each animal. As an animal enters a chute, an electronic ear tag is read. Animal weight is captured, and users can implement treatment protocols, capture treatment costs, track animal health history, and accurately dose treatment based on weight.

“Our system gives you a hands-off look at accurate health data for every animal that hits the chute,” Kuper says. “This is real-time information, and we deliver it as easy to use and understand.”

Zellmer has been using Performance Beef for a little over two years, and he was excited to try the new feature. “We had been using a herd health monitoring program, but it was very difficult to use,” he says. “I was spending a lot of time at the computer trying to navigate the system.”

Real-time data

With the animal health component, Zellmer says the interface is very intuitive. Data on each animal is in real time. 

“I know if an animal has been treated, if it needs a second dose, and also its withdrawal date,” he says. “There’s no more guesswork, and we’re not spending time tracking down information. It’s right there when the animal is in the chute.”

Every bit of information is then captured, taking the possibility of human error in entering data out of the equation. “There’s no more writing something on your hand or making a mental note, and hoping you enter the information on the computer after you’ve been pulled away to other jobs that day,” Zellmer says.

In developing Performance Beef, Kuper says the focus was on the user experience. “We built it to be scalable, agile, and flexible. The cloud-based system eliminates the need for expensive hardware. The user experience is a game changer.”

The platform also eliminates the need for the labor-intense process of entering data and learning a complicated program. “That has been the knock on other cattle management software: They are expensive, need constant upkeep, and require a special skill set to learn and manage,” Kuper says.

Depending on the producer, payback varies. “Some customers have noticed health data recorded in our platform indicates a high degree of variability in cattle they source. They are discovering the bottom 10% are coming in a lot lighter than the average of the group,” he says. “That information allows producers to do a better job of monitoring cattle coming into their operation and keeping their brokers more accountable.”

In other cases, the more efficient and effective use of treatments and antibiotics can have significant payback. “One employee can put the animal in a chute, see the treatment, follow-up recommendations, and withdrawal windows. They know when to treat, or more importantly when not to treat,” Kuper says.

The bottom line: “Producers now have a tool to bring an even higher level of management to their operations,” he says. “It’s real-time information to fine-tune what they are doing and help them become more profitable. Everything we can do, every technology advantage we can give producers, can make them more competitive.”

Animal health data are part of the overall Performance Beef platform that brings a connected farm to producers for complete information about their business. “The first thing we needed to do was automate feeding,” Kuper says. “We have more than 1,750 customers who are comfortable using our system. Animal health is a natural next step.”

Zellmer says the system has shown its value but not just in herd health and profitability. “I have two children and another on the way,” he says. “My employees have families as well. Instead of spending hours on the computer, we have more time for them.”

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