Animal ID and monitoring

Artificial intelligence makes accurate sheep counting a reality

Terry Sim November 1, 2019

A LIVESTOCK counting system using artificial intelligence will be ready for the live export industry this year and for use in sheep saleyards by April 2020.

A team from the University of Technology Sydney has taken artificial intelligence technology already used regularly on roads to count cars and other vehicles, to develop a system of counting sheep using facial detection and recognition.

The UTS researchers have also been developing new technology for cattle facial detection and recognition.

Accurate counting is vital for the livestock export industry, as stocking densities, pen space allowances and feed stores need to be calculated precisely. It is also needed by abattoirs and saleyards checking stock numbers.

Video footage has been captured at feedlots and in Fremantle during a ship being loaded with sheep, and the computer ‘taught’ how to recognise individual animals. Click here to see a short video of sheep being counted onto a live export vessel.

Under optimal conditions, with sheep moving freely, the technology has demonstrated more than 98 percent accuracy and work is continuing with UTS to refine the system.

Lead UTS researcher Jian Zhang said five field trials have been run at the Fremantle port and also in saleyards.

“For the normal sheep running on the race with an extreme congestion, we can achieve 100pc (accuracy).

“We don’t need to limit the running speed of the sheep,” he said.

Associate professor Zhang said the system does not use electronic tag signals for counting.

“By using our AI-based video technology, we can do the accurate (~ 100pc) for unloading the sheep from trucks down ramps.

“We have tested our technology in Fremantle port (for sheep export) and in feedlots or saleyards.

“For the unloading, we are very confident that we can achieve 100pc.”

The project is funded by Meat & Livestock Australia and LiveCorp, and talks are being held with a New South Wales company on potential commercialisation.

“We are working with MLA not only for the sheep counting, but also for many other research and development projects, including animal welfare monitoring, free-yard weighing and growth estimation through image processing.”

Associate professor Zhang said the system would also be able to be used for pigs, and for nutrition status estimation and animal behaviour analysis.



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  1. Nathan Paewai, December 11, 2023

    Hello, I’m an operation coordinator at Progressive Meats in New Zealand. We are very interest in your Al-based video technology system for counting stock off trucks on to ramps then into sheep yards. I believe this would be of great benefits to our company and our clients. Can you please provide any relevant information that will help us understand just how this systems works and what benefits it provides to the user?

    Thank you

    Nathan Paewai
    Progressive Meats Ltd
    Naw Zealand

    Progressive Meat LTD

  2. Dayne M West, May 5, 2020

    Hi, is there a way to speak with the professor who is running this AI program – Associate Professor Jian Zhang?
    Or someone from MLA? I am a shearing contractor and have just purchased another service business in the sheep space with cage dipping, jetting and lamb marking enterprises. I believe this technology would be of great benefit to our clients and I would be interested in being a part of any trials being conducted.
    Regards, Dayne.

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