AgriOrbit recently spoke to Georgette Pyoos, animal scientist at the Agricultural Research Institute (ARC) about the GrowSafe system and research undertaken using the system.

Pyoos said the GrowSafe system is a Canadian system that measures feed intake and body weight in cattle. The system was acquired under the leadership of Prof Michiel Scholtz of the ARC, who secured the funding for it through the National Equipment Programme of the National Research Foundation (NRF). The GrowSafe system, uses a RFID (radio frequency identification device) ear tag to identify individual animals and each feeding bin is equipped with an RFID antenna. Cattle may eat at any one of a number of feed bins. The bins are all on load cells and as soon as the animal enters to eat, its number is automatically scanned and the bin weighed. When the animal has finished eating and moves out, the bin is weighed again to a resolution of 10 grams.

In addition to accurate feed intake recorded in real-time, the ability to constantly monitor intake per animal means that animal behaviour such as duration of feeding, amount of feed consumed per feeding, number of feedings per day and animal relations can be monitored.

The partial body weight of the animal (front quarter) is measured at the water trough while it drinks which allows observations to be made on frequency and time of drinking.

Research using GrowSafe system

Climate change comes with a need for more detailed studies on the effect of temperature and humidity on the performance and behaviour of cattle. Pyoos’s aim is to come up with recommendations on climate-smart beef production systems. It is anticipated that crossbreeding could play a significant role in this regard.

Crossbreeding involves planned breeding of two different superior purebred cattle, eg an Nguni cow and an Afrikaner bull. The crossbred calf with 50% of its genes from the cow and 50% from the bull has a higher average of superior genes and performance traits (heavier weaning weights, improved fertility, improved carcass quality etc) than the combined average of both the purebred parents.

The study will evaluate post weaning performance in a diverse group of crossbreds, such as Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni cows, bred to Afrikaner, Bonsmara, Nguni, Angus and Simmentaler bulls in all possible combinations. The study will examine three purebred and 12 crossbred genotypes.

Pyoos will also observe crossbred cattle behaviour during feeding and drinking and during periods of heat stress.

“This system means we can record more accurate measurements of feed intakes, growth, average daily gain, and residual feed intake. It will allow us to statistically quantify how well, or how badly, different cattle genotypes perform under extreme climatic conditions, given their different feed behaviours. I hope this can lead to climate-smart beef production,” said Pyoos.

“Our GrowSafe system has also attracted the attention of President Ramaphosa who visited us a year ago, as the president of the Ankole Cattle Breeders’ Society. He was very interested in our research for the future,” Pyoos said. – Ntswaki Motaung, AgriOrbit