How a smartphone could take the hard work out of fencing

Pearse Lyons
Pearse Lyons

Gerry Giggins

Thankfully, the long awaited sunshine arrived to coincide with first cut silage making.

Many beef farmers now opt for an early, high quality first cut as opposed to delaying the cutting date with the aim of going for bulk, especially where finishing cattle is involved.

Whilst silage activity was in full swing I attended the Alltech One conference in Lexington, Kentucky. Billed annually as the Ideas conference, it brings together the sharpest minds in agriculture from throughout the world. 0ver three days, 4,000 delegates are informed on topics including agri-business, health and wellness, crop science and all animal species.

Lexington is the home of Alltech's global headquarters and was the home of the company's founder, Dr Pearse Lyons.

Dr Lyons sadly passed away in March of this year but his work was remembered during the conference.

The Lyons family and Alltech staff paid tribute to his memory, while the progressive and thought provoking nature of the conference embodied the true spirit of Dr Lyons.

Throughout the hotels, restaurants and bars of Lexington, the 4,000 conference delegates were very visible.

Local Kentuckians were highly appreciative of the revenue brought by the conference and were highly aware of Dr Lyons' story, the young, Dundalk born, entrepreneur arriving from Ireland in the 1970s with $10,000, his wife and two young children to live 'the American dream'.

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Applying his yeast fermentation expertise from the brewing industry to agriculture, specifically ruminant animals, allowed him to build one of the globes leading agricultural companies.

Having attended this conference on a number of previous occasions, I am always amazed by the technological advancements being made in the world of agriculture.

Alltech support, through the Pearse Lyons Accelerator Programme, start-up companies that are developing new smart technologies.

Previous Irish companies to run as part of this programme include Moocall sensors and MagGrow, with both companies proving to be huge commercial successes.

While I must confess to not being technologically gifted, there were two specific pieces of kit that caught my attention.

Smartbow, from Austria, has developed another ear tag sensor that will monitor animal's activity and health.

This technology can also position the animal within the farm and provide advanced warnings on any sub clinical health issues.

The US-based startup, Vence, was promoting their virtual fencing and autonomous animal control system. This technology is an advancement from that which keeps dogs within the confines of a garden. In the US, this technology allows for animals to be confined remotely to certain parts of ranches or prairies.

Grazing management is therefore improved without the need for hands-on labour or expensive fencing infrastructure.

While most Irish livestock farmers don't have the broad expanses of American ranches and have already invested significantly in fencing infrastructure, this technology could offer a solution on intensive grazing beef and dairy farms.

Backfencing, physically moving animals and the need for fencing infrastructure could all be eliminated and controlled from a smartphone.

Galway native, Ian Lahiffe, who is now based in China and working in the beef industry with Allflex Livestock Intelligence, presented on where the Chinese beef market is currently in relation to the importation of US beef.

Obviously this was of interest to me given the current status of Irish beef exports to China. US beef has been excluded from Chinese supermarket shelves for the past 14 years but this ban has recently been lifted.

This ban was originally imposed due to American beef not meeting the necessary criteria for the Chinese market, traceability, the use of hormones and the widespread use of antibiotics as therapeutic remedies were all issues.

The American beef industry has not fully addressed these issues to date meaning that only 3pc of their beef produce will meet Chinese import criteria according to Lahiffe.

This came as a huge surprise to American delegates while it was music to the Irish ears in the audience given the quality of our beef produce in those regards.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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