BROOKINGS, S.D. – South Dakota State University Extension hosted its first Precision Livestock Field School from July 31 to Aug. 2, 2023, at the Cottonwood Field Station near Philip, South Dakota.
Thirteen people attended the three-day event, which brought people from as far away as Sardinia, Italy. Speakers included professors, industry professionals and SDSU faculty and staff.
SDSU Extension Precision Livestock Field Specialist Logan Vandermark said the program focused on educating participants, primarily graduate students, on implementing precision technologies and analyzing data for meaningful results.
“We wanted to take the initiative to train the next generation of students and researchers,” Vandermark said. “This training is critical to fully realize the potential benefits of these technologies with students who know both practical livestock production and cutting-edge tools.”
A part of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station at SDSU, Cottonwood Field Station incorporates precision livestock agriculture into its research. The first day of the Precision Livestock Field School started with a tour of the Cottonwood station, followed by presentations from experts in precision livestock technologies and hands-on experiences.
Precision ranching technologies have the potential to provide data to help producers make decisions that may impact profit margins, ranch sustainability and natural resource management.
Students were trained in the technologies currently implemented at the Cottonwood Field Station, including virtual fencing, precision feeding and weighing systems, and precision watering systems.
“Some students have already been to research conferences where these technologies are being discussed, but they’ve never actually seen it in person,” Vandermark said. “They enjoyed the opportunity to get their hands on the equipment.”
In addition to handling the equipment, Vandermark said it is important to learn how to use the data provided, and how to present it to producers. The second day of the field school trained students how to set up research trials with precision technologies. On the final day, students learned how to analyze the data to help researchers and producers make data-driven decisions.
“There is a gap in education to understand the data science and animal science of this kind of research. Managing all that data and looking at it seems a little overwhelming,” Vandermark said. "We're able to provide meaningful graphs, tables and summary statistics that clearly tells a story of how the cattle are performing and behaving on extensive rangeland systems."
Event organizers plan to make the field school an annual event. There will also be a precision livestock field school for producers in the spring, focusing on hands-on applications and the economic breakdown of precision technologies.
“With the growing interest and use in precision livestock technologies, schools like this will help South Dakota livestock production to remain competitive by reducing costs while maintaining the heart of our ranching culture and tradition,” Vandermark said.
For more information, contact Logan Vandermark, SDSU Extension Precision Livestock Field Specialist.