Movement sensors used for human sleep assessments have been applied successfully to sheep to predict lambing dates and potentially enhance the precision of flock and farm management strategies.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) tested the sensors on 416 Merino ewes and nine rams during mating at its Katanning Research Station, as part of a collaborative trial with Murdoch University and Australian Wool Innovation.
Research scientist Beth Paganoni told the recent WA Livestock Research Council study tour the sensors proved to be highly accurate, with spikes in close contacts with rams translating to conception dates.
“The results were astounding, with 91 per cent of the lambing occurring within plus or minus six days of the predicted date, while 84 per cent were within plus or minus three days,” she said.
“The sensors could potentially be even more accurate, as we used maiden ewes in the trial to test the technology, which are the most difficult cohort of sheep given they are first time mothers.
“The research showed using sensors was an effective way of predicting lambing dates, which could be used as a tool to reduce the lambing window to within two weeks.”
The sensors logged every minute of the ewes’ movements within 15 metres of the rams, with researchers’ analysis showing clear spikes in activity – indicating conception dates.
The trial data was captured and analysed by Murdoch University honours student Kirsty Cunningham, who has since commenced work with the department as a technical officer.
Ms Cunningham said the sensors could be a useful tool to refine flock and paddock management strategies.
“The benefit of this technology is far reaching, ranging from planning the shelter and nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating ewes, to tailoring flock management to improve marking rates, to optimising weaner growth rates,” she said.
“It also allows for more precise paddock and stock management, enabling greater lamb survival by being able to manage sheep that are within two weeks of age, rather than juggling a tail of underperforming stock.
“Early prediction of lambing dates enhances age estimates, which could also improve the accuracy of breeding values for lamb growth and performance.”
DPIRD now intends to collaborate with sheep producers to test the technology onfarm and explore how the data could be applied in a commercial enterprise.
Megan Broad/Jodie Thomson, media liaison +61 (0)8 9368 3937