Smart tags for sheep

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

In the future, Smart Tags will provide wool and sheep producers with a new way of, in real-time, tracking and gaining information about animal behaviour and the health and well-being of their sheep. Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) is currently investing in the development of the Smart tag.

The AWI Smart Tags can be either a solar-powered ear tag that would last for several years on the sheep or a battery collar tag that would be used temporarily for example, on rams during the joining period.

The system provides a combination of accelerometer, proximity, and position data to track the movement and activity of animals and the interactions between them. The technology has been designed to withstand the conditions and challenges producers face in remote areas, such as issues with connectivity. 

AWI Smart tag data is used to monitor basic behaviours of sheep such as grazing, walking, resting or rumination activity. These behaviours provide insights into the physiologic status of the animal and allow to detection of abnormal parameters that can be a sign of stress or disease.

The smart tags are also used to predict more complex events. Oestrus and joining event detection will help woolgrowers to optimize the reproduction management of their sheep. Grazing management is being investigated to facilitate effective grazing strategies for woolgrowers.

Several research organisations are collaborating in the development of the AWI Smart tags by using the tags in their research projects. The outcomes from this research will be digital signatures for behaviours and models that will interpret data in the system.

University of Sydney has been working to develop an algorithm to detect the mounting event on the ram. The last trial to collect data for this development is currently being carried out in Arturshleigh, a research farm owned by USyd. 850 ewes and 30 rams are being monitored during the joining period. Data analysis will validate the algorithm, provide the accuracy, and demonstrate the capability of the tags to identify the ewe being mounted.

Another recent trial with Central Queensland University aims to determine the behavioural differences between sheep infected with Barber’s Pole worm and sheep free of infection and how these behavioural changes correspond to the clinical stages of an infection. In turn, these results will create an algorithm and disease-based alert system for the AWI smart tag.

The technology aims to be affordable, practical and long lasting. Reasonable price and multiple functionalities will be key to make the product more valuable for woolgrowers and increase the likelihood of adoption.

Article written by Carolina Diaz, Program Manager Agri-Technology, AWI