Knowing the precise weight of cattle is an essential part of good livestock management. Regular weighing allows producers to closely monitor growth rates, health status, nutrition programs and more. This comprehensive guide provides cattle farmers, ranchers and students with key information on selecting, using and maintaining weighing scales specifically for cattle in Australia.
Why Accurate Cattle Weights Matter
There are several important reasons why cattle producers need access to accurate weights:
Tracking Growth Rates
Weighing cattle at regular intervals enables producers to chart growth curves and ensure cattle are gaining weight at expected rates for their breed, gender and age. Sudden changes or plateaus in weight gain can indicate emerging health issues requiring intervention.
The nutritional needs of cattle depend heavily on accurate weights at each life stage. Calves, replacement heifers, breeding stock and fattening cattle all require specific nutritional management. Knowing weights allows for properly balancing rations and supplements.
Meeting Target Slaughter Weights
To maximize returns, cattle need to be sold at optimal slaughter weights. Regular weighing helps identify individuals nearing ideal market weights for their breed and schedule processing dates accordingly.
Many medications and health supplements are administered on a milligram per kilogram or pound per bodyweight basis. Weighing ensures proper dosing to avoid dangerous over or under dosing of treatments.
There are legal requirements for weighing cattle for livestock movements, sales or shows. Scales provide official weights needed to comply with transportation, exhibition and saleyard regulations.
For sales by liveweight, either private treaty or at saleyards, scales provide buyers and sellers an impartial measurement to determine fair market value per animal.
For all these reasons, investing in quality cattle weighing equipment pays dividends on cattle farms and feedlots.
Types of Cattle Scales Used in Australia
There are three main types of scales used for weighing cattle in Australia:
Portable Cattle Scales
- Portable floor scales that can be transported to pens or paddocks
- Often digital readouts showing weight in kilograms
- Capacities from 1000 to 6000 kg
- Battery powered with rechargeable batteries
- Manual recording or Bluetooth/USB transfer of weights
- Easy to move and use in multiple locations
- Moderate price point around $2000 to $4000
Mounted Cattle Scales
- Permanently installed scales integrated into cattle crushes, races or chutes
- Weight displayed on digital panel, monitor or dial
- Capacities from 2000 to 6000 kg
- Minimize handling needed to weigh each animal
- Provide very consistent weights from a fixed location
- Higher initial investment from $4000 up
In-Motion Cattle Scales
- Scales installed in entry and exit raceways that weigh cattle as they walk over
- Can provide individual or group/lot weights
- Advanced systems can link to software to track weights electronically
- Allow very high throughput weighing
- Highest price point over $10,000 but highly automated
Important factors when selecting a scale type include budget, workflow, data recording needs and throughput requirements.
Key Features of Quality Cattle Scales
Here are the top features to look for when selecting cattle scales:
- Measurement Units - Ability to toggle between kilograms and pounds
- Capacity - Maximum capacity well above heaviest cattle
- Dimensions - Platform size suits cattle singly or in small groups
- Readability - Can detect small weight changes of 2-5 kg
- Construction - Durable materials resistant to elements
- Power Source - Battery, solar or mains power
- Display - Easy to read in sunlight
- Portability - Integrated wheels and handles on portable types
- Calibration - Ability to confirm accuracy with test weights
- Connectivity - Bluetooth or WiFi for transferring data
- Approvals - Meets legal certification standards
Consider investing in extras like load bars, remote displays and integrated software for easier data recording and analysis.
How to Use Cattle Scales
Follow these tips for accurately weighing cattle:
- Place scales on a firm, level concrete or compacted gravel base
- Check scales are calibrated and make any adjustments needed
- Zero scales between each animal
- Weigh cattle individually for best accuracy
- Move animals slowly and calmly on and off scales
- Avoid sudden jerky movements that could affect readings
- Provide clear vocal cues to animal entering/exiting scales
- For in-motion systems, ensure steady gait straight across
- Record weights immediately with animal ID details
- Store scales in a clean, dry location after use
With practice, efficient workflows can be developed for moving cattle through scales quickly and smoothly.
Installing Cattle Scales on Your Farm
Proper installation helps ensure cattle scales stay accurate and functional over the long-term:
- Carefully follow manufacturer's instructions for assembly
- For portable units, ensure frame is on a solid base and stabiliser legs extended
- Permanently mounted scales must be well anchored into concrete pad
- Position scales in an easily accessible site with good cattle flow
- Allow adequate space for livestock to comfortably walk on and off scales
- Keep scale platforms clean by sweeping or brushing - avoid pressure washing
- Check wiring and connectors are intact with no fraying or corrosion
- Inspect digital displays, dials and buttons to ensure fully functional
- Have a backup power source available to avoid data loss during weighing
- Schedule annual professional servicing and calibration checks
- Maintain manuals and records of all maintenance performed
Taking steps to correctly install cattle scales from the outset will pay off with years of reliable service.
Ensuring Accurate and Consistent Cattle Weights
To maximise weighing accuracy:
- Standardize procedures – use the same process for every weighing
- Individual weights – avoid placing two cattle on scales simultaneously
- Animal ID – record weights against individual ear tag, brand or lot numbers
- Consistent timing – weigh at same time to account for gut fill variation
- Frequent weighing – increases data points for growth and health monitoring
- Zero scales – reset to zero between each new animal
- Annual calibration – check against certified test weights annually
Following consistent protocols under controlled conditions provides the most useful weights for monitoring and analysis. Consult a vet if any weight issues arise.
Troubleshooting Common Cattle Weighing Problems
Some common cattle weighing problems and solutions:
- Review procedures - rushed handling can affect results
- Check scales are still properly leveled and positioned
- Weigh only one animal at a time
- Reset zero point before each weighing
Not detecting small weight changes
- Increase weighing frequency to weekly vs monthly
- Ensure scale has appropriate minimum increment
- Check calibration annually and adjust if needed
Weights skewing suddenly
- Confirm scales are on flat surface and bolted down
- Inspect for any debris or damage to scale platform
- Have scales professionally serviced
Weights not matching saleyard results
- Check both scales with known test weights
- Note gut fill changes from transport times
- Communicate discrepancies professionally
No weight gain showing over time
- Increase weighing frequency
- Compare against breed averages
- Review nutrition, health status and genetics
- Retest scales against certified weights
Consulting scale suppliers and manufacturers can help diagnose and resolve any cattle weighing problems. Having properly functioning equipment is essential.
Frequently Asked Questions on Cattle Scales
What is the most accurate type of cattle scale?
In-motion walkover scales offer very high levels of accuracy but have a high price point. For most uses, a properly calibrated and maintained portable digital scale provides reliable accuracy.
How much does a cattle scale cost?
Basic portable digital scales start around $1000 but good quality scales are $2000 - $5000. Permanently installed scales are upwards of $5000. Advanced walkover systems can cost over $10,000.
What capacity scale do I need?
Choose a maximum capacity at least 1.5 to 2 times the weight of your heaviest cattle to allow for growth. Aim for 3000 – 5000 kg for most beef and dairy cattle types.
Where should I place scales on my farm?
Select a concrete pad or compacted gravel site with good cattle flow around handling facilities. Allow adequate space for livestock to comfortably walk on and off the scales.
How often should cattle be weighed?
For growing cattle, aim for weekly weighing to best track growth rates. Mature breeding cattle can be weighed monthly. Weigh immediately before transport for sales.
Is calibration needed for cattle scales?
Yes, scales should be calibrated against certified test weights annually at a minimum to maintain accuracy. High usage scales may require more frequent calibration.
How do I get cattle to walk onto scales willingly?
Slow, gentle handling along with clear vocal cues help cattle remain calm and compliant. Solid sides prevent them seeing below platform. Adequate lead-up space allows momentum.
Can I weigh cattle in mobs or must I weigh individually?
While scales will provide total weights for mobs, individual animal weights offer far more insights for growth monitoring and health evaluations. Averages can hide issues.
How should I record cattle weights?
Digital scales allow easy data transfer to computers and farm software. Or record manually with individual animal ID and weights in a notebook or spreadsheet.
Selecting the Right Cattle Scale for Your Farm
Choosing the right cattle weighing scale requires comparing key factors:
The three main types – portable, mounted and in-motion – all have particular pros and cons. Evaluate your budget, cattle throughput, workflow and data needs.
Look for robust construction, suitable capacity, connectivity options, easy calibration, legal approvals and advanced functions like automation.
Ease of Use
Opt for cattle scales that are quick to set up and operate and straightforward to move around or install as needed. Durability and low maintenance are also useful.
Scales with easy data transfer through Bluetooth, USB or WiFi connectivity allow simpler recording direct into software or notebooks.
Weigh up the cost against labour savings, data insights and optimised cattle productivity the scales can provide. Quality scales are a good investment.
Discuss options with farm equipment suppliers to select the best cattle scales for your specific requirements and budget.
Using Cattle Scales and Software to Revolutionize Farming
Linking digital cattle scales to farm management software takes cattle monitoring to the next level. Benefits include:
Streamlined Data Recording
Scales that interface directly with software eliminate manual recording and transcription errors. Data uploads automatically against each animal's records.
Seeing weight data populate immediately allows timely nutrition, health and management adjustments based on emerging trends.
Cloud Data Access
Stored data can be accessed anytime from mobile devices in the paddock to aid decision making on the spot.
Software can generate growth rate, average daily gain and other detailed reports with visual graphs at the click of a button.
Some programs can analyze weights over time to predict future trajectory and flag any anomalous results requiring intervention.
While software and digital scales require some investment, the long-term benefits for productivity and precision cattle farming justify the costs for most producers.
Using Cattle Crushes for Safe and Efficient Weighing
Cattle crushes are key tools for the safe and stress-free weighing of cattle. Benefits of using crushes include:
- Animal safety - Reduces risk of injury to livestock during handling
- Handler safety - Allows handling from outside the crush reducing human risks
- Immobilization - Holds cattle stationary for consistent, accurate weighing
- Reduced stress - Minimizes discomfort for cattle during weighing procedures
- Ease of use - Side access gates allow cattle to easily enter crushes
- Durability - Robust steel construction stands up to repeated use
- Customization - Range of options like squeeze function, auto-capture head bails and inbuilt scales
For both ethical and practical reasons, incorporating a well-designed cattle crush into the weighing facility is highly recommended.
Options for Cattle Operations
Larger cattle enterprises have some specific equipment options:
Extra Heavy-Duty Scales
Heavy-duty scales designed for weights up to 3000kg offer greater capacity for large framed adult cattle.
In-Line Scale Systems
Scales integrated into receival and exit races allow continuous weighing of high cattle numbers passing through yards.
Programs that can compare weights against expected averages and growth curves for the herd flag any issues. Some programs can predict future weights.
Weight-based auto-drafting systems can automatically sort cattle into different pens based on weight parameters.
Combining weigh scales with EID readers gives individual weights matched to electronic IDs in a seamless process.
For large commercial beef and dairy operations, this technology allows very detailed monitoring and sorting of stock. The higher costs are justified by increased productivity.
Weighing cattle forms a vital part of good livestock management across all cattle farming systems. Modern digital cattle scales linked to farm software provide invaluable data for optimising health, growth rates and profits. This guide covers all the key considerations for selecting the right equipment and utilising it effectively to revolutionise cattle monitoring on Australian farms. Accurately tracking the weights of every individual animal provides powerful insights for boosting productivity.