Have ewe herd about Fitbit for sheep?

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Many sheep in a race The CSIRO is developing Fitbit-esque devices for sheep Many sheep in a race

The CSIRO is developing Fitbit-esque devices for sheep ... though this doesn’t mean there’s going to be a Biggest Loser ‘sheep edition’ TV show coming anytime soon.

The idea of a Fitbit-like device that monitors the day-to-day lives of sheep, however, could actually have a lot of practical applications.

According to the CSIRO there are roughly 74 million sheep in Australia and keeping track of them all is a desperately difficult job for farmers.

Now imagine if farmers were able to monitor the health, whereabouts and behaviour of their flock 24/7 using GPS and accelerometers that measure 3D movement. That is exactly what the CSIRO is trying to accomplish.

"Farmers generally rely on gut feel, rules of thumb and visual observations to manage their livestock," CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Dean Thomas says.

"We feel we can increase productivity and improve animal wellbeing by developing scientifically-based monitoring products that alert and keep farmers up to date with the wellbeing of their flocks."

The trackers, which are attached behind a sheep’s shoulders, were initially tested in Western Australia to see how they could help local farmers.

The trackers proved to be rather more useful than first thought, and pretty soon the CSIRO realised that they could be used to monitor a myriad different occurrences such as: animal growth and health; escapes, predation and theft; water supply; erosion; and pasture quantity.

The next step in developing this tracking software will be accurately interpreting data to best understand its value.

To interpret the data correctly, the CSIRO says it will have to go back to basics and visually monitor sheep behaviour and productivity across a range of situations.

An example of this would be whether the speed of a flock’s movement could be used to detect a predator and alert a farmer to its presence.

"We need to build up our data over a number of different scenarios, and then convert all of that into an integrated system for graziers," Thomas says.

The CSIRO says that advances in livestock management technologies may provide a solution to many of the challenges associated with keeping sheep in mixed crop and livestock farms, and hold the key to helping farmers breed and manage healthier and more productive sheep. 

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