Why in-paddock weighing gives you more gains than you might expect

Who would have thought that a piece of technology designed to avoid the need to bring animals to yards for weighing could also improve environmental outcomes?


Yes, it’s true.

And to understand that we need to trace the journey taken by many Optiweigh users.

There are now 800 Optiweigh units in operation. Most of them are in Australia but there are some in NZ, Uruguay, USA, Canada and the UK.

And it is very easy to characterise the typical user: typically they are innovative owner-operators who run good profitable businesses. They don’t use technology for the sake of it – but are quick adopters when they can see value.


Time after time we have seen their journey unfold like this:

Firstly, they are interested in Optiweigh because they can see the benefits of having real-time weight information at their fingertips. And front of mind for this is the use of that information to make better decisions around marketing. How many animals are at my target weight? When is the best time to sell to optimise my returns? That way they can maximise value with the least discounts against a grid.

This is the job that Optiweigh was designed to do.

Optiweigh provides farmers with real-time weight data and makes it available to help them make those all-important decisions – but without the time, labour and animal stress associated with yard weighing.

Because of this, the Optiweigh unit has become an integral part of the farming family – standing out diligently in the paddock and sending back a report on the cattle each and every morning.

But every now and again the weight gain chart throws up a surprise and shows cattle that are not performing like they should be.

And of course the first question is always “Is the unit weighing properly?”. Which is why  having support at Optiweigh is so important – to check the scales are weighing properly and then help analyse the data to see what is happening.

Sometimes something might be wrong with the scales. Perhaps it’s a rock jammed in the wrong place or some mud between the platform and the frame that has dried out and set hard. Occasionally the load cells themselves simply fail.

So step one of the checking process is to check the scales.

But this is usually not the finish – because most times they are not to blame.

The reasons can be many and varied, with some notable individual examples of situations below where something unexpected was found and most importantly resolved thanks to Optiweigh’s detection:

  • Animal health – Northern Victoria – 500kg steers losing weight due to internal parasites. Weight quickly recovered after treatment.
  • Animal health – Western Queensland – animals losing weight due to external parasites (fly). Protocols put in place to reduce the parasite burden and the weight quickly recovered.
  • Grazing management – Northern Queensland – moving animals to a fresh paddock once weight gain slowed was found to lift average daily gains from 0.3 to 0.6 kg per head per day.
  • Water quality – Central West NSW – animals in a big mob on rotation losing weight after 2-3 days in a paddock once the water in dams had become dirty.
  • Mob size – Northern NSW – animals on good feed in a mob of 300 not gaining weight. Drafted into 3 mobs of 100 and started to gain weight again.
  • Nitrate toxicity – South East Qld – animals on crop losing weight unexpectantly – nitrogen toxicity at certain stage of crop growth identified as cause by veterinarian.
  • Pasture quality – Victoria – animals not gaining weight on pasture that appeared satisfactory from visual assessment.
  • Pasture Quality – Central West NSW – animal weight gain performance contradictory to conventional wisdom around growth stage of pastures.
  • Heat stress – Australia wide – animals losing weight when Temperature and Humidity Index reaches high animal stress levels.
  • Individual animal tolerance to environmental extremes – Northern WA – significant differences found between animals in their susceptibility to heat stress events.

More often than not, the early detection and identification of issues like these has allowed the farmer to take earlier, immediate action with two positive outcomes:

  1. The average daily gain is better than it would have been without the early action or intervention; and
  2. The knowledge learned will improve decision making in ways that will lift average daily weight gains across many more animals and over many years.


So what has all this got to do with environmental outcomes???

Methane emissions from animals account for 85% of total farm emissions for a typical grazing business.

This means that a 10% improvement in average daily gain is going to equate to an 8.5% reduction in the amount of methane emissions per kg of meat produced.

Does 10% sound too ambitious? Well actually, in practice we find it is probably more on the conservative side.

Consider these numbers (which are quite typical):

  • Cattle of feed suitable to gain 1.0 kg per day for 180 days
  • 1 month period of no weight gain reduces weight gained by 30kg
  • Average daily gain for the period is 0.83
  • Avoiding the month of no gain increases average for the period by 20%
  • The increased productivity results in a reduction from 13 kg of Co2e per kg of liveweight to 11.4.

The cool thing is that it is rarely lack of feed inputs that causes this month of no gain.

So when you’re thinking about weight gain, you can now also think and factor in the emissions saving too to help you and your farm perhaps capture market value from your processor or the more conscientiousness consumer.

It’s not often in farming you get added bonuses and some nice pleasant surprises. Methane emission savings is a by-product of good accurate and early weight gain monitoring.

Food for thought.

If you’d like to know more or talk to one of our team about Optiweigh and the advantages it could offer on your farm contact us here


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