Beefing up cattle production in New Mexico

"SRUC researchers will help beef cattle farmers in the American Southwest improve productivity (credit: © Elizabeth -"

Scotland’s Rural College is part of a new multi-million dollar research project investigating how to improve beef cattle production in the United States using precision farming methods.

The project, led by New Mexico State University, has been awarded $9m in funding from the United States Department of Agriculture under their new Sustainable Agricultural Systems programme.

Researchers from SRUC’s Hill and Mountain Research Centre will work closely with colleagues in New Mexico to develop and deploy Internet of Things (IoT) hardware and associated technology – similar to that used at Kirkton and Auchtertyre farms in the Highlands – at the University’s experimental rangeland research farm, as well as commercial ranches across the American Southwest.

This technology – which uses a low-power radio network to send information from sensors placed around the farms and on livestock – allows researchers to track the location of grazing animals and collect information on environmental variables such as soil temperature, soil moisture content and water levels in burns and streams.

Davy McCracken, Head of the Hill and Mountain Research Centre, said: “The wet mountains of the Southern Highlands of Scotland are dramatically different in landscape and character to the arid rangelands of the south-western United States.

“And from a livestock manager’s perspective, you may think that these two areas have only one issue in common - how best to manage water. With too much water – in the form of rain, impacting on livestock here and too little water – in the form of dependable watering points, affecting livestock in that part of the USA.

“But if you look closely at the livestock systems – primarily focused on sheep here and exclusively on beef there – the challenges they face are very similar. Both involve grazing livestock at low densities over large areas of relatively unproductive pastures, with a combination of poor nutrition, pests, diseases and predators impacting adversely on both productivity and growth rates during the lambing and calving seasons.

“Much of what we are focussing on at Kirkton and Auchtertyre – be it genetic improvement of livestock productivity; managing on-farm forage and fodder resources more effectively; using sensors to physically track livestock; or using Electronic Identification (EID) associated equipment to better track the performance of individual animals – is just as relevant in south-western USA.”

As part of the research project, the Hill and Mountain Research Centre will also host PhD students from New Mexico State University, who will compare the effectiveness of the technology in the two contrasting agricultural situations.

The long-term goals of the project are to increase profitability and productivity on ranches in the arid regions of the south-west; reduce cattle production losses due to weather and climate impacts; and improve water and nutrient use efficiency on these ranches and associated beef finishing systems in the Ogallala Aquifer region.

SRUC’s involvement in the project came about after Andres Cibils, Professor in Rangeland Science at New Mexico State University, visited Kirkton and Auchtertyre while he was in Scotland to attend an animal welfare conference three years ago.

Davy said: “We will certainly be looking to use this opportunity to grow our research and education connections at New Mexico State University as well as elsewhere in the USA.”

Posted by SRUC on 23/09/2019

Tags: Cattle, Partnership
Categories: Research | Animal Welfare | Natural Economy