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Beyond the Bale : March 2018
54 Imagine this: a woolgrower is sitting at the breakfast table with his cup of tea. Before heading off into the paddock to do the daily activities, he checks his iPad. On the screen he can see the location of all his sheep and a health status icon hovers over each sheep providing an indication of any problems. A small sensor has been monitoring the behaviour and activity of each animal 24 hours a day, providing an early warning of any behavioural changes. The woolgrower can now prioritise his routine inspections and potentially implement treatments well before he would have traditionally noticed a problem. Whilst this may seem fanciful, this is already a reality in other livestock industries and a new project funded by AWI aims to help make this a reality in the Australian sheep industry. The research will be undertaken by 28-year- old Dr Jamie Barwick, an associate lecturer in precision agriculture at the University of New England, Armidale, who was presented with a Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture earlier this month. The cost of internal parasites to the Australian sheep and wool industry is more RESEARCH INTO EARLY DETECTION OF WORM BURDENS New research will get under way next month into a real-time sheep monitoring system that will enable producers to be alerted when their sheep are showing early behavioural changes associated with increasing worm burden. than $430 million annually which, after neonatal mortalities, is the highest animal health cost the industry faces. The costs are not only associated with the treatment of affected animals; approximately 80% of total costs are associated with lost production. Dr Barwick said remote monitoring of sheep activity and behaviour has the potential to substantially reduce the current high levels of lost productivity associated with worm burdens. “If producers were able to identify worm infections earlier than current diagnostic measures, which include worm egg counts and visual observation, the potential benefits of a behaviour alert system to the sheep and wool industry could be enormous,” Dr Barwick said. “There are already established links between animal activity, such as a change in grazing activity, and the animal’s health status. Furthermore, there are also several studies that have identified the capacity of on-animal sensors to predict animal behaviour. So the goal of this project is to produce an algorithm that will enable the sensors to identify the sheep’s behavioural changes associated with increasing worm burden, and then alert producers. “The project will also investigate the development of a paddock-based auto- drafting system that will help with the targeted treatment of selected animals and therefore help to reduce the time and labour the producer needs in animal management.” Similar modelling principles could be applied to the identification of other diseases, such as flystrike, therefore contributing to further research in the field of animal health and welfare. Dr Barwick said he is keenly optimistic about precision agriculture in the livestock industry and believes it has the potential to assist graziers’ management operations in the 21st century. “This project will fulfil a personal goal of developing an autonomous disease detection system for the Australian sheep industry,” he said. “I hold a strong belief that digital agriculture technology must offer a direct benefit to the farmer, either through more efficient allocation of resources, informed decision making, optimised productivity and sustainability levels and ultimately an improved pathway to profit.” Dr Barwick’s project will begin next month and be completed 12 months later. The results of his study will be written and submitted for publication in refereed scientific journals. Findings will also be communicated with tech development companies involved in real- time livestock monitoring, allowing potential incorporation of the behaviour models into their pathway to market. 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 email@example.com Dr Jamie Barwick at the University of New England’s SMART Farm Innovation Centre interrogating some data streams coming off the UNE SMART Farm. 54 ON FARM
In the Shops - March 2018