KANSAS CITY, Mo. – During the 2018 Animal Care & Handling Conference, officials from Cargill unveiled CattleBot, a robotic solution intended to more safely and humanely move cattle from holding pens into its beef slaughter plants.
Comparable in size and function of a golf cart, the three-wheeled, 450 lb., remote-controlled CattleBot is battery-powered and designed to keep workers safe in what can be one of the most dangerous areas of slaughtering facilities. It is equipped with a combustion engine back-up generator and strategically located arms capable of holding and waving flags. The Cargill-green robot, which is the third production version of the original prototype, also features front and back video cameras, a speaker that emits pre-recorded sounds or voices to assist in moving cattle and uses compressed air to propel streamers and help control would-be balking cattle.
A couple of years ago, Brad Churchill, Cargill’s director of beef slaughter operations, saw a video of a robot made by Lakewood, New Jersey-based Flock Free, which provides bird control services for commercial and industrial customers. Almost immediately he told Tom Kapa, the owner of the company, “I can move cattle with this.”
Churchill acknowledges the animal welfare benefits realized by utilizing robotic cattle movers at its facilities but especially lauds the worker safety aspect of the technology as the robot serves as a buffer between livestock and workers in the pens.
“If we can keep employees safely away from cattle, I’ll sleep better,” Churchill said.
He added that the development of the technology included input from veteran animal handling professionals within Cargill and across the industry. The robots are planned for deployment in Cargill plants in North America by the first quarter of 2019 and the technology will also be made available to other processing companies in the meat and poultry industry.
“We put a lot of thought into this,” said Churchill, acknowledging that the robots address risks that exist at all slaughter facilities across the industry. He added that those employees who’ve worked with cattle in the pens are quick to learn how to operate the remote control.
“If you know how to move cattle, as soon as you learn to use the control box, you’re moving cattle,” he says.
With the batteries fully charged, the CattleBot can operate for six to eight hours and supplemental power provided by the internal motor can more than double that run time. The system is designed to be remotely controlled by an operator positioned on catwalks above cattle pens.
Animal welfare expert and MEAT+POULTRY Contributing Editor, Temple Grandin, Ph.D., previewed the robot during its development and even operated it using the remote control at a processing plant. Testing was conducted at Cargill beef plants in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, and Schuyler, Nebraska.
“The robotic cattle driver developed by Cargill is a major innovation in the handling and welfare of farm animals,” said Grandin, professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State Univ. “This device will lead to huge strides in employee safety while moving large animals and reduce the stress on cattle across the country.”
“The average bovine weighs almost three quarters of a ton, and our plant processes several thousand head of cattle daily,” said Sammy Renteria, general manager of the Cargill beef plant in Schuyler, Nebraska. “This innovation provides a much safer workplace for our employees and allows them to develop new technology expertise as they manage and operate the robot.”