SHEEP tags with sensors to determine ewe-lamb pedigree could be on the market within 12 months if commercialisation funding is found.
At the 2017 BestWool BestWool Conference in Bendigo last week, La Trobe University researcher and PhD candidate Rajneet Sohi said the sensor ear tags are expected to cost less than $5.
At the conference, Mr Sohi outlined his commercial sensor research focussing on matching ewes with lambs for pedigree and monitoring sheep behaviour in a Victorian first cross ewe flock near Glenrowan during 2014 and 2015.
Click here to get the latest Sheep Central story links sent to your email inbox.
Current methods used to determine pedigree in flocks were either too costly, time consuming or unreliable. They include catching and tagging lambs at birth; the Pedigree Matchmaker system where tagged ewes and lambs were coaxed to pass a static reader, and; DNA testing which costs about $20 a sample.
“We’ve found a very simple solution to match the lamb to the dam, this is based on the proximity detection principal.
“Basically each senor acts as a receiver or a beacon; if it’s a receiver it scans for all the neighbouring beacons within a certain boundary once a minute and the beacon will keep on sending its signals – its ID — four times a second, so nothing can escape from the receiver,” Mr Sohi said.
The sensor system can also determine maternal bond and lamb feeding behaviour, he said.
The La Trobe University research has demonstrated that the sensors can help establish a maternal pedigree with 100pc accuracy, relative to later ewe-lamb DNA testing, within 24 hours of fitting the sensors to ewes and lambs. This could reduce the need for tagging lambs at birth or doing a DNA test to establish dam pedigree.
In the research trials, commercial sensors were attached to dog collars clipped around the necks of ewes and lambs. The sensors had a Bluetooth function and were programmed as beacons or receivers that send or receive signals. The blue-tooth function helped determine the number of proximity ‘hits’ between ewes and lambs. The number of proximity ‘hits’ was then used as a means of identifying lambs that belong to certain ewes – their mothers.
The sensors are also able to register motion and can remotely identify the behaviours which relate to ewe and lamb survival.
“In order to understand lamb mortality it is very important to understand ewe behaviour,” Mr Sohi said.
Monitoring of signals from the accelerometers in the sensors enable determination of the difference between behaviours such as grazing, lambing, dystocia or difficult lambing, rumination, lameness and mob behaviour. Mr Sohi said the motion data was still being analysed to clarify “mismatches” in accelerometers signals from sensors.
In future the sensors could be developed to monitor ram mating behaviour, Mr Sohi said.