Intravaginal Devices and GNSS Collars with Satellite Communication to Detect Calving Events in Extensive Beef Production in Northern Australia
Observing calves at birth may help to identify risk factors for, and reduce, calf loss in extensive beef systems. The objectives of this study were to: (1) evaluate two commercial satellite birth alert systems to enable the observation of newborn calves and (2) assess behavioral changes of cows around calving. Vaginal Implant Transmitters (VIT) paired with Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) collars were worn by 20 cows in Trial 1 and 10 cows in Trial 2 to identify birthing events. The
... hing events. The VIT and GNSS collars contained a temperature sensor, accelerometer, and very high frequency (VHF) to communicate with a handheld tracker, and ultra-high frequency (UHF) for communication between the VIT and GNSS collar, which had two-way communication using Iridium satellites. A change (Brand 1) or drop (Brand 2) in temperature of more than 3 °C and inactivity triggered the VIT to communicate an expelled alert to the collar, which transmitted the birth alert information via Iridium (device ID, date, time and geolocation of the GNSS collar at expulsion). Cows and calves were tracked in the paddock following a birth alert to assess their health and status. Overall, true birth alerts occurred in only 27.6% of devices. Cows remained active on the day of calving travelling 5.54 ± 4.11 and 5.00 ± 2.80 km/day compared to 6.45 ± 2.79 and 6.12 ± 2.30 km/d on days when calving did not occur for Trial 1 and 2, respectively (mean ± SD). Average activity of the accelerometer X- and Y-axis on calving day was reduced by 15%–20% compared to other days in Trial 1 (p < 0.05) but not in Trial 2 (p > 0.05). Results suggest that these two birth alert systems are not suitable for use in extensive systems and the further development of the technology is required. Cows in the current trials remained active on the day of, and after, calving, indicating that a faster, real-time alert system and communication protocol would be required to achieve the aim of finding newborn calves.