SHEEP producers can be involved in Queensland research into smart sensors to prevent and detect livestock theft, although the initial CQUniversity project will focus on cattle.
Two days ago, Central Queensland University at Rockhampton sent out a call for producers to participate in a research program testing smart sensor technology as a means of preventing and detecting stock theft.
The research project with collaborator AgForce is aimed at developing a new livestock monitoring system which can be used by landholders and law enforcement agencies to remotely monitor animals.
Project leader Associate Professor Mark Trotter said there had been a big response to the initial press release two days ago, with producers from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia wanting to be involved.
“There has been a lot more interest than I anticipated.
“I was just going to do this in Queensland, but I’ve got people from all states ringing up wanting to get involved.”
The initial research will involve sensors on cattle collars, but Dr Trotter is anticipating doing similar research with sheep “in the very near future.”
“I do not doubt that in the future we will have an ear tag that does location and behaviour sensing of our livestock.”
He could not say when a commercial product would be available to farmers, but Dr Trotter said the increased “serious investment” in the area was encouraging.
“I reckon within five years it will be happening.”
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The university is taking down names of interested producers, including those running sheep, to be involved in a survey to help determine how stock theft was happening and how animals responded. Dr Trotter has received strong interest in the research from Western Australian, New South Wales and Victorian sheep producers.
“If people want to respond to help me out with a survey about sheep, then I’m happy to do that – we are going to get there eventually.
“If we get that key information on sheep then that’s great and we’ll expand out to sheep when we’ve got some funding,” he said.
“The project was written for beef, but I will almost certainly be expanding it, based on the enthusiasm (we’ve received), and I’m keen to hear from anybody that wants to give me information.”
Strong interest due to theft impacts
Dr Trotter attributed the strong national interest in the research project to the level of stock theft occurring and the associated mental and social impacts. The 2001‐2002 National Farm Crime Survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology, found that livestock theft was the most commonly reported rural crime, affecting six percent of farms, involving 186,777 animals with an estimated annual cost of $16 million. However, most incidents (65pc) go unreported and the true cost is more likely to be closer to $67 million a year.
“But it is not just a financial issue of losing those animals, you spend a bucket-load of time worrying about losing animals.
“It’s more than the post-event emotional impact, it’s the amount of energy that is actually expended by people worrying about it,” he said.
“It’s massive, it’s a massive social and mental fatigue problem.”
Dr Trotter said stock theft can range from small incursions paring off a handful of animals from larger groups, all the way through to major criminal operations in which entire herds are mustered into portable yards and shipped out in semi‐trailers.
“In all cases the opportunity to steal is a result of the inability of the farmer to constantly monitor the location and behaviour of their livestock.”
Workshop for affected producers planned
CQUniversity’s Precision Livestock Management team is recognized as a national leader in the use of sensor technologies to enhance animal production. Dr Trotter will be collaborating with Professor Steve Moore from CQUniversity’s School of Engineering and Technology in adapting sensors for use on livestock, and with Dr Stuart Charters of New Zealand’s Lincoln University, who is an expert in data management and visualization.
“One of the limitations of the National Livestock Identification System is that the location of an animal is only sporadically known when the tags are checked when livestock are bought, sold or moved along the production chain – animal data cannot be accessed remotely or in real‐time,” Dr Trotter said.
“We have designed a generic animal sensing platform with GPS location to monitor animal movement that we will test in stock theft simulations at AgForce’s Belmont Research Station.”
CQUniversity aims to develop the algorithms and analytical tools that will take data off smart tags or collars to detect that a stock theft event is underway.
“So what we are trying to do is get the smarts moving so that when someone comes onto the farm and tries to move or sell animals we are actually picking up that behaviour so that there is an alert as it is happening,” Dr Trotter said.
“We are not developing the hardware, there are some commercial people doing that; developing collars and ear tags.”
At the outset of the program, CQUniversity will be hosting a workshop with producers directly affected by stock theft to gain insights into the types of behaviour, both criminal and animal, that could be recorded during stock theft, as well as feedback on how on‐animal data could be best be relayed to these end‐users in a meaningful manner.
“It’s about understanding the different ways in which animals are being taken and the potential animal responses, so we can match the behaviour to the sensors in the devices.”
Due to the number of expressions of interest from producers, anyone interested in completing a survey or participating in the producer workshop is asked to contact the university on [email protected]