Smart tags set to deliver increased profitability

Smart tags set to allow sheep and wool producers join the digital journey

Sheep
Smart tags will allow both commercial and stud breeders to remotely monitor sheep in real time and from that make informed decisions to increase their enterprise's profitability. Image - AWI.

Smart tags will allow both commercial and stud breeders to remotely monitor sheep in real time and from that make informed decisions to increase their enterprise's profitability. Image - AWI.

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Sheep producers will soon be able to join the digital journey with the use of smart tags.

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Smart tag technology currently being developed by AWI will eventually allow sheep producers to closely monitor their sheep and make timely and precise management decisions.

Project manager at AWI, Mark Scott, said not only will the tags eventually provide on-farm productivity gains,they will create welfare alerts such as flystrike, footrot as well as wild dog alerts.

"The tags will allow both commercial and stud breeders to remotely monitor sheep in real time and from that make informed decisions to increase their enterprise's profitability," Mr Scott said.

"As well as enhancing grazing optimisation, and reproduction optimisation, from an AWI perspective it can also significantly decrease the cost of observational research."

Smart tags can either be an 'ear tag' that would last for several years, or a 'collar tag' that would be used temporarily on lambs while they are mothering up.

The technology is being designed to be low cost, long lasting and self-sufficient.

It will provide a combination of accelerometer (measuring the acceleration of a moving animal), proximity and position data to track the movement and activity of the animals and the interactions between them.

They can pick up movement from up and down, across, as well as back and forth, so when there is a mating event, all three angles are moving.

"The significance of that is not only can producers remotely see when there is a joining event, but more ideally they will be able to see which ram is working and when," Mr Scott said.

Currently, the tags can locate the sheep in the paddock, establish maternal pedigree and monitor their activity.

But several research organisations are using AWI smart tags to understand sheep behaviour and provide predictive algorithms that will be used in the system.

In collaboration with the University of Sydney, the project aims to pick up the behaviour of when ewes come into cycle as well as understanding male reproductive behaviour.

Further research will be aimed at the detection of oestrus, assessment of ram libido and the efficacy of oestrus synchronisation protocols and time of ovulation.

"There is a fair bit on the horizon for reproductive management which is crucial for the sheep industry and trying to rebuild the flock from where we are now," Mr Scott said.

At WA's Murdock University, they are researching grazing behaviour with different levels of feed on offer, picking up what they are grazing on and on what quantities.

The project will generate smart tag data across a range of grazing situations and use this data to train machine learning algorithms that can accurately predict feed on offer and detect grazing behaviour.

"Hopefully we get to a point where we can create some optimised management and nutrition strategies that build on that lifetime wool research that was funded some 20 years ago that is the standard for nutrition strategies today," Mr Scott said.

Central Queensland University researchers are assessing the ability of smart tags to detect animal health issues and predation events faced by sheep.

"Wild dogs are a huge problem for wool production around Australia, and we want to get to a point where we have a tag that can provide real time alerts for mobs under distress," Mr Scott said.

"That doesn't necessarily mean you need all sheep in the mob tagged, it means you could have a subsection of the sheep tagged in the mob and if they are moving in a particular way or pace, that can send a real time alert to the producer and they can take action accordingly."

At the University of New England, they have been set to task building algorithms to identify what normal behaviour is.

"Algorithms to identify what is normal grazing, what is normal walking," Mr Scott said.

"Can we get alerts for when things are normal, but also can we make production foresights based on that information.

"For example, can we get a condition score forecast based on the way the sheep is behaving today."

Mr Scott said admittedly there is a lot of work going on, but the aim is to get a system that allows sheep producers and woolgrowers to closely monitor their sheep and make timely and precise management decisions.

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