CLAY CENTER, Neb. – Agricultural engineers working for the US Department of Agriculture have developed a new system to monitor livestock feeding habits.

Tami Brown-Brandl and Roger Eigenberg, scientists at the Roman L. Hruska US Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., designed software and hardware that uses radio-frequency identification technology to monitor daily variations in feeding behavior, such as the amount of time each animals spends eating, the number of times the animal feeds and the timing of those events, according to the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The technology, which uses an ear tag on each animal, monitoring equipment and data recording and storage, can be used to track normal feeding patterns, ARS reported. The new monitoring system could help identify sick animals faster and get them treated early to prevent the spread of disease. Also, the monitoring system could be used to improve herd management and establish genetic differences within a herd.

The system was designed to work in an industry setting, ARS reports. It was first used to monitor feedlot cattle, and has been adapted to grow-finish hogs. Future studies involving the technology include feeding behavior studies related to age, gender, weight gain and the health of the animals, according to ARS.