BunkBot hard at work at the Mort and Co Pinegrove feedlot. The robot scans feed troughs to predict how much grain cattle are eating.
BunkBot hard at work at the Mort and Co Pinegrove feedlot. The robot scans feed troughs to predict how much grain cattle are eating.

Darling Downs feedlot leads robotics revolution

IF A farming robot trial at Mort and Co’s Pinegrove feedlot goes to plan producers across the Darling will see more automation in the paddock.

The feedlot is using a four-wheel critter named BunkBot to scan feed toughs and record how much the cattle eat.

Pinegrove in one a handful of Australian sites hosting the trial, which is funded by Meat and Livestock Australia and the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association. BunkBot was built by Australian robotics company Manabotic.

Its managing director Stuart McCarthy said the trial would test BunkBot's ability to measure and predict feed rates in 100 pens of cattle.

“We’ll be collecting feed remaining predictions from BunkBot and humans, and then we’ll recover all of the feed, weigh it back, and get the mass that’s really there and compare the accuracy of both,” Dr McCarthy said.

“After the experiments have been completed and we’ve been able to demonstrate that feed remaining can be predicted autonomously, more accurately and more precisely than humans, we aim to make the technology available to lot feeders.

“BunkBot will benefit lot feeders in several ways, including improved feed utilisation, improved knowledge of feed intake by the cattle.

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In the past this job was done by a human, either on foot or in a ute.

While replacing that person with a robot may be concerned to some labourers Dr McCarthy said it would create new demand for other skills.

“In the near-term we expect that at least one labour unit at a feedlot dedicated to bunk calling may be reallocated, as the BunkBot will be able to replace this skilled resource by being available to operate unrestricted with overall higher performances,” he said.

If all goes to plan the robot will be trained to work at night or to monitor other cattle behaviour.

“By demonstrating that autonomous vehicles can operate in the feedlot environment, the platform may be used as a mounting point for future technologies,” Dr McCarthy said.



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