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Beyond the Bale : March 2015
36 ON FARM Research into an innovative use of technology to help woolgrowers protect their flocks from wild dog attacks is under way thanks to an AWI-supported grant. The research will be undertaken by 34 year old Dr Greg Falzon, a lecturer in computational science at the University of New England in Armidale, who was presented with a Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture earlier this month. The project will research and develop a ‘listening station’ device – the Electronic Shepherd – to detect the presence of wild dogs and attacks on stock and then send an alert to the woolgrower’s mobile phone, giving the woolgrower the opportunity to intervene and disrupt an attack and discourage future attacks. The aim ultimately is to reduce stock losses and costs. Dr Falzon says he witnessed first-hand the devastation that wild dog attacks can have on stock when he lived on his family’s property in the Mid North Coast region of NSW. “My family had a farm which included a small flock of about 10 sheep which were all finished off one night by wild dogs,” he said. “Ever since then, I’ve always kept in the back of my mind that if I could do anything about dog attacks then I would.” Dr Falzon’s career has taken him into computers, rather than farming, but he still has a keen interest in the land. He says technologies used to combat wild dogs in Australia have largely remained unchanged since the 1950s, but new and innovative solutions could help address the issue. “If sheep producers could reliably detect dog attacks as they are occurring or just prior to an attack, at any hour and at even the most distant locations of their property, then there could be an opportunity to thwart a dog attack,” he said. “Early warning technology could allow woolgrowers and sheep producers to take the initiative back from the dogs and allow them to protect their stock.” The Electronic Shepherd system will include a listening station, placed in the paddock close to the flock, continually listening to the surrounding environment and monitoring the flock as it goes about its daily activities. “Sophisticated real-time embedded signal processing software and algorithms would automatically detect the presence of predators, such as a dog bark, or an attack on the flock indicated by extensive bleating or sheep running. On board processors would relay an alert signal and location to the woolgrower via the mobile network or, if not available, via long range radio link. “Based on my current estimates, a single Electronic Shepherd unit would have paid for itself after saving 15-20 sheep.” Dr Falzon has previously developed, in collaboration with the Invasive Animals CRC, the ‘Wild Dog Alert’ system, which is based on motion-activated camera technology. “The Wild Dog Alert system is intended as a wide area surveillance tool designed to detect the presence of dogs in a region rather than specifically detect a potential or real dog attack on a flock. The Electronic Shepherd addresses this short-coming of Wild Dog Alert, and both systems could be used together as an integrated defence system.” The Electronic Shepherd project will seek to develop proof-of-concept technology. A key objective of the development will be to determine the effective range of the Electronic Shepherd and optimal configurations for whole flock monitoring under realistic conditions encountered on a sheep property. The accuracy of system, false alert rate and variables such as the impact of different weather conditions will be monitored and addressed. “The algorithms developed in this project could be readily adapted to other applications such as detecting lambing events and monitoring animal welfare,” Dr Falzon added. “One of the Honours students in our team, James Bishop who is supported by the Australian Wool Education Trust, is actually investigating the use of Electronic Shepherd technology to monitor ewe-lamb interactions to increase lamb survival.” The Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture are coordinated by ABARES and are open to young people aged 18-35 years working or studying in rural industries. The annual awards aim to encourage the uptake of science, innovation and technology in rural industries. MORE INFORMATION Greg Falzon E email@example.com THE ELECTRONIC SHEPHERD CONCEPT DETECTION SYSTEM WILD DOG A unique 21st century way to detect when wild dogs approach sheep flocks is being researched with the support of AWI. The Electronic Shepherd is a listening device with advanced computer software that can identify the sound of wild dogs or a stock attack and then send an alert to the woolgrower’s mobile phone or via long range radio link – giving the woolgrower an opportunity to disrupt and discourage dog attacks. The Electronic Shepherd could become a component of a property’s integrated wild dog defence system to reduce stock losses and costs. THE ELECTRONIC SHEPHERD CONCEPT