Improving animal welfare and employee safety—that’s the top two goals driving the creation of the industry’s first robotic cattle mover. Cargill says the robots are designed to move cattle from holding pens to the harvest area at processing plants, reducing stress to the animals by minimizing their proximity to human activity.
Employees operate the robots from a catwalk above the holding pens. This also helps improve worker safety.
It took two years to develop the prototype, including help from Temple Grandin, professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Significant input also came from animal welfare experts, beef plant employees and engineers from equipment supplier and manufacturer, Flock Free.
“The robotic cattle driver developed by Cargill is a major innovation in the handling and welfare of farm animals,” Grandin says. “This device will lead to huge strides in employee safety while moving large animals and reduce the stress on cattle across the country.”
Operators say the joystick control is easy to use—similar to playing X-box. (Photo: Cargill)
The machine uses automated arms, blowers and audio recordings to move cattle in a desired direction, and can operate in rain, snow, or mud with no delay in daily operations. Testing was conducted at Cargill’s Wyalusing, Penn., and Schuyler, Neb., beef processing facilities. The robotics are being implemented at Cargill Protein beef plants in the U.S. and Canada.
“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, Neb., in a release from the company. “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.”