Development and validation of an activity-based system to monitor individual drinking behaviour and water intake of grazing cattle: A field solution
thesisposted on 2022-01-05, 04:20 authored by Lauren O'ConnorLauren O'Connor
Drinking is a critical behaviour for cattle health, welfare, production and survival. Water is an essential nutrient and is involved in most bodily functions including metabolism and thermoregulation. Cattle productivity, health and welfare can be compromised if physiological water requirements are not fulfilled. The distances that cattle must travel to access drinking water in a grazing environment affects the frequency that cattle drink and may affect an animal’s ability to meet its water needs. Ambiguity regarding sufficient water provision for grazing cattle, in terms of the number and distribution of water points (e.g. dams or bores), and optimum drinking behaviour under field conditions represent serious knowledge gaps that are required to maximise cattle health, welfare and performance. The aim of this thesis was to review, develop and validate an automated system to monitor the individual drinking behaviour of grazing cattle under field conditions. The first part of the thesis examines the literature on cattle water requirements and drinking behaviour. Chapter 2 provides an overview of the northern Australian beef industry, upon which the research is focused, and highlights the importance of drinking water for cattle in grazing environments. The need to record cattle drinking behaviour under field conditions is demonstrated and existing automated monitoring systems are explored. Chapter 3 uses a systematic review methodology to quantify relationships between drinking frequency and cattle performance. The detailed analysis provides evidence that suboptimal drinking frequency can negatively affect water and feed intake and in turn cattle performance (live weight, milk yield, milk fat). The next part of the thesis examines the potential of automated technologies to record grazing cattle drinking behaviour. Chapter 4 investigates the use of Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) panel readers to monitor cattle water point use. The chapter shows that information on the time of day and frequency that cattle visit water points can be obtained from automated technologies. Behavioural variation according to climate and water availability can also be detected. Chapter 5 tests an approach to detect cattle drinking from a trough using neck mounted accelerometers. The chapter shows that acceleration measures of cattle head-neck position and activity can identify drinking from some behaviours (standing with the head up and walking) but not from behaviours with similar head-neck characteristics (standing with the head down).