WHILE counting sheep is known for being the boring task that can put the most restless to sleep, returning an accurate number without making costly errors appears to be almost above humans.
That is why some processors have been looking at artificial intelligence to get an accurate count of the numbers of sheep entering a plant. Similar work is happening in cattle feedlots.
The trials are being run by Singapore-based company animalEYEQ, which uses camera vision and artificial intelligence to monitor livestock in intensive systems.
The company’s Australian director Andrew Gray recently spoke at the global protein conference in Dalby. He said there was a lot of opportunities for the technology and said making sure livestock were counted correctly was one of them.
“We started talking to feedlots, piggeries and other intensive operations to see what opportunities there were in tracking and monitoring animals, mainly with the goal of detecting early symptoms of disease,” Mr Gray said.
“Most of them came back to us and said ‘that’s great you can do that, but can you count them first?’ So, we’re working with receivals at feedlots and abattoirs, tracking entry numbers and validating them against National Vendor Declarations.
“We have heard of processors having quite a big discrepancy at the end of the day, which ends up being quite costly. If they’re killing more than 100,000 head of sheep per week and they are 1pc out, at $250 per lamb, that adds up quickly.”
Focus on low hanging fruit
Mr Gray said the company was currently trialling products in abattoirs and feedlots and was hoping to sell the technology after proving its accuracy and effectiveness.
“At the moment, we are focusing wholly and solely on accounting – we want to start turning a profit,” he said.
“We see counting livestock as the low hanging fruit and if we can turn a profit then we will be able to expand into other areas.
“So far, we have been able to demonstrate a 100pc accuracy in good conditions. Now we can go to processors if we are having issues with accuracy and recommend some changes to the flow of animals to get that count right.”
Mr Gray said if the company can land contracts with processors, it could use the technology in other parts of the plant.
“Cameras can very easily measure carcases, which I think is an area we could really value add with our product,” he said.
Potential in cattle feedlots
The company is running a trial at a big feedlot doing similar work to abattoirs – counting animals on arrival to validate NVDs. Mr Gray said it had the potential to move into other areas.
“We have done work tracking animals in feedlots to better detect diseases,” he said.
“There is a lot of potential uses in other parts of a feedlot, or any intensive livestock system, which will be able to do more research on when we make some more sales.”
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