ARCHIVED - Real-time decision making for a paradigm shift in the beef industry

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GrowSafe Systems Ltd

March 05, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

An unprecedented ability in real time to track animals, early identify sick animals, reduce labor and maximize profits.

An unprecedented ability in real time to track animals, early identify sick animals, reduce labor and maximize profits.

It can be difficult for a new kid on the block to succeed when the technology is so amazing that nobody believes in you. That is where the National Research Council Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) stepped in to help GrowSafe develop and test their unique animal monitoring system for use in the beef industry.

In 1990, GrowSafe developed a method to read multiple low-frequency tags from unconfined animals housed in close proximity – they are still the only company that can do this today. GrowSafe's technology and data modeling has led to the development of leading-edge commercial identification and measurement devices that fully automate livestock production activities. Over the last four years, NRC-IRAP has supported the endeavor with technical information, introductions and connections.

GrowSafe first applied its technology to the ostrich industry. They found that ostriches would visit a feeding station up to 500 times a day. When the visitation frequency dropped, it was an early warning sign of the onset of illness.

Then, in 1992, GrowSafe moved to develop similar technology for cattle – a bigger animal, housed in a more challenging environment and requiring a much larger "read" range. To fund their R&D, they began to sell their technology to animal science institutions. Research in these centers convinced them that their technology could have a dramatic economic impact on the beef industry.

Under the GrowSafe system, the animals are tagged with passive low frequency electronic identification tags (transponders) – each transponder ever manufactured has a unique identification number. When an animal visits a trough to eat or drink, the GrowSafe system automatically reads the tag that identifies the animal. At the same time, the animal is weighed; this information as well as information about its behavior are collected – and then sent wireless up to 30 miles to the data acquisition computer. There, using advanced data modeling techniques, the data is translated into real-time information about the animal's performance, weight gain and health.

If the system determines that an animal is ready for market, and or requires treatment, the computer sends a signal back to the system to trigger a marking device that will spray paint the animal the next time it visits a trough. In a pen of 300 animals, looking for the "green animal" rather than a 15-digit, ear-tag number greatly simplifies both treatment and marketing processes. 

GrowSafe is now taking its technology to the feedlot for commercialization, with help from NRC-IRAP. This initiative, with its focus on aiding up and coming companies to validate and develop innovative ideas, is providing GrowSafe with financial assistance for testing their application in commercial feedlots.

  "It's the first commercial application of this technology. An Alberta feedlot and four of the top 20 feedlots in United States are now involved in pilot testing. It's very exciting for us to see our technology in the marketplace," says Allison Sunstrum, Vice President GrowSafe Systems Ltd. "GrowSafe is a real decision-making tool. It takes the guesswork out of managing large groups of animals. The system tells the feedlot operator when an animal is ready for current market at the best price, if it is achieving the desired weight gain at an efficient rate, and or if it's a "non-performer" or if it is sick, etc."

"Our feedlot beta test enabled by IRAP was a breakthrough," comments Allison. "NRC-IRAP has enabled us to prove to the beef industry that GrowSafe technology can really increase profits. Through optimal marketing alone we can improve net income up to six times."

GrowSafe's technology and data modeling are going to bring a paradigm shift to beef production. Allison notes, "If it weren't for NRC-IRAP financial support, advice and encouragement, we would have never arrived to where we are now."

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