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Beyond the Bale : September 2019
ON FARM 59 AWI’s smart tags aim to enable woolgrowers to track, monitor and assess the status of their flock in real time – and make more informed decisions to increase their enterprise’s profitability. AWI SMART TAGS UPDATE The development of the AWI smart tags has progressed significantly this year. The design of the ear tag has been improved to reduce the risk of solar panel losses. Readers have been enhanced by the addition of a GPS module and different antennas are being tested to increase the range. Mothering up functionality has been refined to optimise data collection and package transfer from tags to readers ensuring the information is secured even when the sheep are out of range. In addition, three new research projects using AWI smart tags have started. These projects will use the data collected from the tags to understand and optimise the remote detection of sheep behaviour. The behaviours that are being investigated in the projects relate to grazing, reproduction and predation/welfare. OPTIMISING GRAZING STRATEGIES The first new project, with Murdoch University and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Victoria) and suitable titled ‘Grazing Bytes’, will extend the capacity of the AWI smart tags to enable woolgrowers to optimise grazing decisions. It will generate smart tag data across a range of grazing situations and use this data to train machine learning algorithms that can accurately predict feed on offer and detect grazing behaviour. Ultimately, these algorithms will be deployed to help woolgrowers optimise grazing strategies in real time and in doing so optimise both pasture and animal performance. An initial feed intake pilot will be undertaken using feed tracers, through the Merino Lifetime Productivity (MLP) Add On project.. Using the data collected from the ear tags and the feed tracers will start to allow the training of machine learning algorithms. Trials with the tags will be conducted on woolgrowers’ properties across five different farm regions: mixed farm WA, high rainfall SA, mid-rainfall mixed farms Victoria, semi- pastoral NSW and pastoral Queensland. This is so that changes dependant on farm region can be made to ensure accuracy and completeness for the tags. The project commenced in April this year and will run for three years. IMPROVING REPRODUCTIVE MANAGEMENT The second new project, with the University of Sydney, aims to understand male and female reproductive behaviour and how it can be detected using AWI smart tags. Monitoring such behaviour has historically been time consuming and labour intensive, however this project is exploring how AWI smart tags could be implemented so woolgrowers could increase the reproductive efficiency in their flocks. Experiments have been conducted to measure the physical event of rams mounting ewes, with tags on both the ewes and rams. Researchers are developing algorithms to accurately identify the mounting event. Further research will be aimed at the detection of oestrus, assessment of ram libido, identification of sire at point of mating and the efficacy of oestrus synchronization protocols and time of ovulation (including PMSG-free synchronization). The project commenced in April this year and will run for three years. PREVENTING PREDATION AND INCREASING WELFARE In the third new project, CQUniversity researchers are assessing the ability of AWI smart tags to help woolgrowers detect animal health and wellbeing issues faced by sheep. Predation by wild dogs and animal health issues (worms, flies, lice) are major headaches for the wool industry with significant impacts on profitability, animal welfare and woolgrowers’ emotional wellbeing. However, AWI smart tags have the potential to provide woolgrowers with an early warning of behaviours associated with predation by wild dogs or the development of more subtle welfare issues in individual sheep in their flock. This project is aimed at developing algorithms that provide alerts to changes in sheep behaviour ahead of predation or disease events. This will enable producers to detect and manage problems well before they turn into more significant issues. AWI smart tags have the potential to give woolgrowers the opportunity to monitor their sheep as if they were shepherds in the paddock. The key benefit of the sensors is that they monitor sheep activity, behaviour and health 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The researchers are currently taking steps to ensure that the tags can more accurately recognise normal behaviour: walking, grazing, standing etc. This is important as it provides a baseline, which will make detecting changes in behaviour easier and more accurate. The project commenced in February this year and will run for three years. CQUniversity researcher Dr Jaime Manning is assessing the ability of AWI’s smart tags to enable woolgrowers to make an early detection of wild dog predation and diseases in their sheep.
In the Shops - September 2019