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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Telemetry

Posted by Bestprac on Apr 01 2013

By Liz Guerin

Telemetry is a technology that allows data measurements to be made from a distance. In the pastoral sector it is used mainly for monitoring and control of stock water including tank monitoring or pump control, monitoring pipelines, mills and bores, and provides a 24/7 watch over watering points.

Whilst not replacing the need for checking troughs and tanks, telemetry can save pastoralists considerable time and money.

Telemetry commonly refers to wireless data transfer mechanisms. It can encompass data transfer over media such as telephone or computer networks, optical links or other wired communications.

Telemetry Whilst there are as many different systems and methods as there are operators, Tim Stockman of Stockman Telemetry Systems in Burra SA, said that pastoral systems are usually based around UHF radios, because other options, like mobile phone connectivity, are limited.

“Pastoralists are mainly using UHF, as it is a technology that they are familiar with, know how it works and  are confident in their coverage” he said. “There is a very small amount of satellite equipment out there but it is very expensive to run.”

Tim said that different technologies can be used for different purposes and different levels of complexity within a system.

“The voice based systems are great if you want to know if your tank is full. They can be used over a property’s voice repeater network but can be a limited in terms of expansion” he said. “The other disadvantage is that the quality of the signal can be a little scratchy – and if using repeaters, the same ‘scratchy’ signal is rebroadcast. This means that depending on the distances involved that signal can be quite degraded by the time it is received at the base station.”

To overcome this issue, data based systems can be used. The advantage with these systems is that signals are regenerated at every step of the way.

“Signals received by one site as ‘scratchy’, are regenerated before rebroadcasting. This means that data integrity or quality of the signal is constantly being boosted back to 100% at every step” Tim said. “This is important when you are moving more detailed information such as walk over weighing, RFID tag reading or camera data.”

However, data based systems cannot be used over a voice network.

“It is a legislative requirement that they can only be used on a couple of pre-defined frequencies specified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.”

Tim said that by increasing the complexity of the system, the cost is also increased.

“If you look at the higher end data based systems currently on the market, you are effectively putting a customised computer system at each site to handle the collection, storage and broadcasting and rebroadcasting of the data” he said. “Because they are the more complex systems and more goes into them, they are more expensive, but their capabilities are much greater.”

But the increasing complexity doesn’t mean that there is a greater chance of things going wrong. 

“The biggest factor in terms of the reliability of any telemetry system tends to not be the telemetry equipment, but rather physical damage from rare events like lightning strike or poor installation practices” Tim said. “More goes wrong due to the physical installation of the infrastructure and the cabling than true equipment failures.”

Tim said that whilst many things are possible to measure with telemetry, just because it is possible, either electrically or physically, that does not necessarily mean that it is always a good idea.

“There are always the practical considerations” he said. “Many pastoralists want to fit level sensors in troughs, and whilst it is easy enough to do, it is physically impossible to adequately protect the level sensor from livestock damage and the long cable runs from the main cable box to the trough can induce issues with lightning damage. So just because you can do it, doesn’t mean that it is a good idea.”

The main benefit of telemetry to pastoral businesses is cost savings, and whilst the amount may vary according to the size of the property, it can be staggering.

“One property was saving in excess of 18000 litres in diesel to check waters just in one year” Tim said. “If you combine diesel dollars saved with associated labour and vehicle wear and tear savings, that is a significant amount of money – approximately $100,000 per year.”

He says that if people are honest about what their time is worth and what their vehicle depreciation is, the return on investment on telemetry equipment is very short (100% return in under 12 months).

Whilst telemetry does not remove the need to do a water run, it is a tool for removing unnecessary visits, with cost savings and time management being the main benefits.

“There is still the need to physically clean troughs, service pumps and motors and look at your livestock, but pastoralists generally have better things to do than to sit in the ute driving around the paddocks – especially at certain times of the year when you are trying to muster or shear that could make much better use of your time.”

The immediacy of information can be a huge advantage.

“We all know of examples where people have done a water run and 5 minutes later a pipe fitting has snapped, a pipe or tank has split or the end has dropped out of a trough, and a whole tank full of water is lost. With telemetry, these things can be picked up straight away” Tim said.

Last changed: Apr 02 2013

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