SOLAR-POWERED ‘smart’ sheep tags that offer reproductive, animal welfare and stock theft benefits are being developed by Australian Wool Innovation.
AWI’s general manager of research, Dr Paul Swan, told wool growers at AWI’s 2016 annual general meeting that the farm automation and software development area underpinned many of the developments in AWI’s strategic plan.
He said the ability to build maternal pedigrees with ‘smart’ tags underpinned AWI’s reproduction and genetics programs, and the ability to monitor stock remotely underpinned the health and welfare program. The developments AWI was making in ‘smart’ sheep tags for shareholders were something to look forward to, especially for the stud sector, he said.
“We are very determined to make sure that our shareholders as rapidly as possible benefit from this sort of technology.”
At the AGM, Dr Swan showed a manufacturing prototype of a solar-power ewe tag that will pair with a lamb tag to allow for a maternal pedigree and localisation in the paddock. Click here to get Sheep Central story links sent to your email inbox.
“It will detect temperature and various other things, maternal behaviours …. it’s something very exciting to look forward to and we are very active in field trials and piloting prototypes at the moment.”
Dr Swan said research in the ‘smart’ tag area started three years ago, focusing on on-farm priorities. The tags will have the ability to broadcast unique identification and sensor data with wireless Bluetooth technology to a network of portable low-cost solar-powered base stations. Base stations with a send-receive range of about 400 metres in a lambing paddock can pick up pulses containing data from a ewe ‘smart’ tag, he said. Using a process called trilateration, the base stations can work out a ewe’s location, grazing and maternal behaviour.
“So our tags talk to some bespoke low-energy Bluetooth base stations that we’ve been developing and they for us will be the most expensive bit – maybe $100 each.
“But what we are expecting is that you might need 5-10 of those, but they are solar-powered and self-contained and then the rest is the tag.”
AWI’s first priority is maternal pedigree, but as soon as the location of the ewe is known, a whole range of potential applications come to the fore, Dr Swan said. This included defining grazing patterns, where lambs did not survive birth, pre-lambing ewe behaviour, warning of wild dog attacks or sheep theft.
“Longer term the technology becomes entirely compatible with virtual fencing.”
The maternal pedigreed work is being done with earlier versions of the technology involving head harnesses.
“We will have results on over 1500 lambs by Christmas time.”
Dr Swan said AWI’s interest is to come up with the ‘smart’ tag infrastructure and to set up a national network of sites to collect observations on sheep, allowing students and developers to turn the data into applications, stimulating a market for the tags.