Weighing the Benefits of Today’s Scaling Systems

Published on Wed, 02/24/2021 - 4:16pm

Weighing the Benefits of Today’s Scaling Systems.

 By Maura Keller.

  Livestock producers are constantly looking for new ways to minimize the risk of disease and death, improve genetics, sustainability and profitability of their operations. Weighing and tracking data, collected by today’s innovative weighing and scaling systems is highly effective in detecting potential health concerns.

Not many years ago, farmers and ranchers had to estimate livestock weights in the field and then take them to market and see actual weights of their stock. Or they had to pre-weigh on local vehicle scales at coops or other facilities with high-capacity scales.

But today’s scale systems have come a long way. These innovative systems can assist with numerous aspects of herd performance management including sale and slaughter decisions, feeding programs, breeding outcomes and mating preparation. As Ray Williams, learning and development manager, animal management at Gallagher explains, weigh scale technology has dramatically improved over the years, making it easier and more intuitive to gather information at chute side, as well as giving more powerful analytical tools on the computer to review data quickly.

Gallagher’s new TW Series scales are separated into three different groups. Basic weighing, intermediate data collection, and advanced data collection models. The company’s weigh-only scales provide the producer with accurate weight automatically or manually. The intermediate scales are RFID ready and allow the producer to log basic data easily into an animal profile with a typed-in visual tag or RFID scanned tag. Gallagher advanced scales allow for large amounts of data to be collected and analyzed for a more robust animal profile.

“We have scales for every type of operation from the very smallest (50 or less) to commercial herds with thousands of animals,” Williams says. All the information gathered can be analyzed in Gallagher’s animal management software. Data can be downloaded into other third-party programs that the producer might be utilizing for registered herds.

“Scale manufacturers are utilizing the latest in scale technologies to bring the weight and data collection devices out directly into the field for monitoring livestock growth performance,” says Fred Cox, vice president of sales at Cardinal Scale Manufacturing. “This enables the owner to properly manage weights and their livestock’s readiness for the ever-changing market prices today.”

Ted Cunningham, at C-Lock Inc., further explains that one of the biggest trends facing the farming and ranching industry is new technology that aids in individual animal management instead managing animals as a herd or pen.  

“The reality is that even in a fairly uniform group of cattle, there still remains a tremendous amount of individual variation. Obviously, one of the biggest sources of variation is animal weight.” Using scale systems that integrate individual animal identification using RFID, accurate and reliable load cells, and the ability to transfer the animal’s weight/performance/behavior data wirelessly to help producers make informed decisions is an area that has improved and will continue to grow.

Systems Aplenty
So what are the biggest trends and innovations that are happening in the livestock scales and weigh systems industry that producers should be aware of? And how has the technology improved over the years?

According to Joey Spicola, chairman and CEO at ClicR Technologies, a 3D imaging company that scans animals and produces a weight comparable to a gravity scale, most developers are working on improving data systems that connect to traditional livestock scales.

“Advances in data collection for an animal’s weight can be used to lower feed costs, faster identification of sick animals and help track genetics to identify good breeders,” Spicola says. “Some of these advancements help farmers and ranchers make informed decisions for their farms. It’s the digital farm/ranch race to see who can do it first.”

ClicR Technologies has developed a system to weigh animals and produce a weight without a conventional scale weighing system.  

“We were the first to develop a system to take a 3D picture and produce a weight,” Spicola says. “We can 3D scan an animal, produce a weight in seconds and provide an average daily gain.”

Specifically, the ClicRweight systems take 3D imaging that accurately calculates the animal’s weight as an alternative option to the livestock scale. These images are taken by a camera at the same time the RFID chip is scanned and then uploaded in the data system every time the animal takes a drink of water.

Like the manual scales, Spicola has developed an easy-to-navigate dashboard that helps a rancher or farmer view the data in different ways. The ClicRweight systems are currently developed for swine, cattle, and alligators and they can build ClicRweight systems for any farm or ranch situation.

“Conventional scales are labor intensive, and the maintenance is overwhelming, not to mention constant calibration that is required,” Spicola says. “ClicR Technologies’ system has none of that. ClicRweight systems operate in all temperatures and produce a very accurate weight. We provide a user interface so the farmer/rancher can monitor the performance of every individual animal.”

C-Lock developed its SmartScale system to capture individual animal weight, performance, and behavior each time an animal goes to water. The company’s standard SmartScale system operates by utilizing an RFID reader and scale that they custom build to fit existing water sources.  

“Basically, each time an animal goes to drink, we recognize the animal by its RFID tag, and the animal places its front two feet on a scale while drinking and we capture a ‘partial body’ weight,” Cunningham says. The partial body weight is converted to full body weight using a correction factor based on the animal’s age, sex, etc. Additionally, C-Lock captures the time/date of when the animal went to water and the duration spent at the waterer. This can aid in detecting health and management issues in the cattle.  

“This SmartScale data is transmitted wirelessly and is available in real-time to view from any Internet-connected device through our login user interface,” Bitz says. “By having many observations of the animals’ weight, it greatly improves the accuracy of the animals’ ‘true’ weight without influence from factors incurred by physically gathering and weighing each animal on a scale.”
Likewise, Cardinal Scale Manufacturing develops scales for any livestock application, no matter how large or small. Whether the owner’s operation requires a scale for single animals performing vaccinations or large group scales in feed lots, Cardinal Scale has developed many different types of livestock scales for all animal weighing categories.

The Cardinal Scale’s highly-mobile livestock scale, the Weight Wrangler LSM series, is a mobile livestock scale can be easily pulled behind a truck to the rancher’s fields in minutes for getting accurate weights and then documenting those weights.

As Cox explains, this allows for continual monitoring of livestock herds for the scale owner to be assured of timely sell dates for attaining the best revenue possible.

“The Weight Wrangler’s mobile weigh center and printer/data collection is fully powered with an onboard battery,” Cox says. “The scale can also be powered by an optional new solar panel for absolutely no interruption in the weighing process.”

Considerations To Make
Historically, accuracy and reliability have been the main drivers of weigh systems, and should not be overlooked. However, Cunningham suggests that with advances in technology, the opportunity to incorporate wireless data communication and “passive” data capture systems that provide real-time insight into the performance and health of livestock are also important to consider.

“Individual animal management provides an opportunity to improve overall animal management and performance,” Cunningham says. While many operations may still rely on large, platform-based scales—that certainly have their place in terms of being able to quickly catch the weight of a group or truckload of animals —long-term producers should consider systems that have the ability to understand and manage each animals’ weight and performance, which will ultimately improve performance and profit.”

Jim Irwin, president at Commercial Scale & Balance says it is still common for customers to request a mechanical style scale because that is what their existing scale is.

“After we take the time to educate the customer and explain the benefits of the electronic scale, we almost always see the customer make the switch,” Irwin says. Commercial Scale through Rice Lake Weighing Systems offers a complete line of livestock scales including mobile, portable, and stationary style scales that can weigh either groups of animals or even just a single animal at a time.

They also offer a wide range of sizes to fit any size of ranch’s needs and they can manufacture custom sizes to help replace existing worn-out scales. “Our scales are built to last so the rancher should look to the future and think about how many animals will they be working with five years, 10 years, or even 15 years down the road and choose a scale size accordingly,” Irwin says.

Jason Jones, product manager, livestock management solutions at Datamars, says Datamars offers a full livestock management system, including long-term and short-term visual ID tags as well as electronic RFID tags to identify the animals. They can send this tag number to another device, such as our Tru-Test scales indicators, that can upload the data of the livestock to our Datamars Livestock mobile app.

Jones says when producers are evaluating the best scale and weigh system for their particular needs, there are key questions that need to be addressed including:
• Do you need the scale system to be portable? This will determine if a stationary squeeze chute system or a mobile platform system would work best for you.  
• How much data are you looking to capture, how would you like to transfer this data and where will this data ultimately wind up (PC, or send to a third party)?
• Will the scale withstand the elements that it’s used in?  
• Will the scale compensate for the movement of the animals and still provide an accurate weight?  
“With Tru-Test, our scales will lock on a weight within three to six seconds regardless of animal movements, but they continue to take weight readings even after locking on the weight,” Jones says. “This is because we need speed and Tru-Test scales are the fastest weight locking scales in the industry, but what if more than one animal ran onto the scale before we could close the tailgate and the scale locks on? We can just back the additional animals off of the scale and the indicator will then re-weigh the animal that was originally intended to be weighed without having to back that animal off of the scale.”

Future Innovations
As technological innovations are constantly in flux, producers need to pay attention to new scale and weigh systems that can impact their production practices.

“Most of the innovation going forward will be in the instrumentation side of the scale systems,” Irwin says. The amount and types of data that producers now need to record and keep track of is beginning to grow. From needing to print different pieces of information on the sale ticket to transferring the data to a herd management software on a PC, the different options and requirements are endless.

Commercial Scale and RLWS offers a full line of weight indicators that can be used for basic weighing as well as customized programmable indicators with software tailored for the rancher’s specific weighing sequence of operation.

C-Lock also is making an inroads in the individual animal management and feeding systems segment of the industry, which works in conjunction with the company’s weigh systems.  

“Our Super SmartFeed can provide precise amounts of feed or supplement to each individual animal in your herd or pen. What this means is instead of feeding to a “herd” or “pen” average, we can feed the optimum amount each animal needs for performance and profit. What is really exciting is the ability of our SmartScales to capture the real-time animal performance data, that in turn informs our Super SmartFeed how much feed to provide each individual animal,” Cunningham says.

Depending on the scenario and desired outcome, this has the potential for improving overall performance and efficiency, increasing uniformity, but also exploiting the differences in each animals’ genetic potential.  

Cox believes that the scale and weigh system industry is going to greatly improve from the needs and demands of the operator and market demands for livestock information in advance, even to the meat processing companies contracting livestock suppliers. “Cardinal Scale monitors these demands closely from the field to enable us to meet these ever growing business trends,” Cox says.

Jones says that as we move into the future, the industry should expect to see the collection of data expand and the ease at which we can share this data will become easier and more user friendly.  

“I also see the demand for the data associated with these animals increasing, as consumers become more conscious about where their food comes from and the practices used to produce our protein/food become scrutinized,” Jones says. “To be able to market livestock and food products for premium prices, producers will have to assure consumers that the milk or meat was produced with fewer hormones and antibiotics and this data will have to be shared and scales, readers, RFID tags, along with apps and cloud services allow for this sharing at the touch of a button.”