Cargill, Minneapolis, developed what is said to be an industry-first robotic cattle driver aimed at improving animal welfare and employee safety. The robots are designed to move cattle from pens to the harvest area, reducing stress to the animals by minimizing their proximity to human activity. Employees operate the robots from a catwalk located above the pens, reducing safety risks by keeping those who work in the cattle yard portion of processing plants at a greater distance.

Cargill Protein, Wichita, Kan., spent two years developing the prototype, with significant input from animal welfare experts such as Dr. Temple Grandin, beef plant employees and engineers from Flock Free, the Lakewood, N.J.-based manufacturer of the cattle driver. Using waving automated arms, blowers and audio recordings to move cattle in a desired direction, the robots can operate in rain, snow or mud, with no delay in daily operations. Testing was conducted at Cargill’s Wyalusing, Pa., and Schuyler, Neb., beef processing facilities to determine design and operational attributes of the robot that would effectively improve animal welfare and employee safety before being implemented at the company’s U.S. and Canadian beef plants.

“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 Schuyler plant. “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.”

The robotic cattle drivers are currently being implemented at Cargill Protein beef plants in the United States and Canada.