A WORLD-FIRST maternal pedigree collection tag system suitable for sheep, cattle and goats will have its final production-proofing trial in a New South Wales sheep flock next month.
Several other Australian and New Zealand projects are conducting or have finalised pedigree and motion detection tag trials with sheep, but the product developed by agricultural technology company SmartShepherd co-founders David Rubie and Glenn Vassallo is believed to be the first to be farm-ready as an ear tag.
“On the market as a commercial product, this will be the first one in the world,” Mr Rubie said.
“The tags can be ordered now, with the first deliveries in early September 2017.”
The removable proximity-sensing tags work with low-energy radio technology, powered by a coin-size battery, to automate the collection of pedigree data for free-range livestock. The tags send data to nearby tags, and receive it from other tags, simultaneously, effectively linking the electronic tag on a ewe or cow with the EID tag on its lamb or calf to consolidate maternal pedigree.
The tags will retail for about $15 and last for three years. The batteries should last the lifetime of the tag, but they can be changed quickly and cheaply, Mr Rubie said.
“The tags keep the information on-board, they don’t have an external network connecting them and the information is read from the tags in the race when the animals are mustered.
“The whole system is designed to work where there is no internet, where there is no phone signal,” he said.
“Within 24 hours you can know the pedigree, but you can leave them on for months.”
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Other tag functions being researched
Other ear tag functions are being researched, but Mr Rubie said SmartShepherd is aiming to deliver a product that is functional, affordable and robust for pedigree before functionality is expanded.
The tags are about 35mm in diameter — the size of four stacked fifty cent pieces – but a fraction of the weight.
“The size of them is about the same as a fat watch,” Mr Rubie said.
“The tag system is designed to be removable so you can reuse the tags multiple times in a single lambing season.
“They weigh not much more than an existing cattle button tag,” he said.
“We’re hoping that the retention will be as good, if not better, than existing tag systems.”
Mr Rubie said there has been strong interest in the pedigree tag system from sheep and beef cattle producers throughout Australia. He said the NSW trial will ensure the SmartShepherd system is production-ready.
“So people who pick up the system in September will get a finished product.
“We are ramping up production, starting in September.
“We will be in full production for the 2018 season, but we will change that quickly if enough orders came in,” he said.
“We have very strong interest from farmers across the country for the tail of the 2017 lambing season which we are working hard to fulfil.”
Mr Rubie said the “smart” tags substantially decrease the barrier of entry to full pedigree recording and reduction of inbreeding. He became acutely aware of the problems facing sheep farmers in determining maternal pedigree while working for Sheep Genetics as the MERINOSELECT data administrator.
“I found myself talking with farmers who were running to stand still, trying to improve lamb survival and mothering with one hand tied behind their backs.
“The SmartShepherd System was developed to address these farmers concerns and make it possible for them to breed the best livestock they can.”
SmartShepherd partnrship formed in 2015
Mr Rubie founded SmartShepherd with Glenn Vassallo after they met at a technical conference in 2015 and the entrepreneur and Internet of Things expert suggested a solution to the pedigree issue.
The company founders set about designing a system and attracted the attention and investment of HAX – a start-up hardware accelerator based in Shenzhen, China – whose product designers helped develop the current product, including the removeable electronic ear tag and data collection equipment.
SmartShepherd is now based at the SMART Region Incubator at the University of New England, and is keeping a presence in Shenzhen while the first production run of devices is completed.
Mr Rubie said he will be available to demonstrate the SmartShepherd system at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo July 14, 15 and 16.