[ASC-media] Sheep happy to draft themselves

joanne.finlay at dpi.nsw.gov.au joanne.finlay at dpi.nsw.gov.au
Mon Dec 18 03:50:01 CET 2006


NSW DEPARTMENT OF PRIMARY INDUSTRIES
19 December 2006
Sheep happy to draft themselves

Remote drafting of sheep, where they are divided into groups without the 
need to be taken to yards or to involve human labour, is now a reality. 

And the reason appears to be, in part, that the sheep are happy to draft 
themselves.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) researchers, working through 
the Australian Sheep Industry Cooperative Research Centre, are 
investigating new technologies for managing individual traits in sheep in 
order to improve returns to growers and better manage the environment.

According to DPI Principal Research Scientist, Dr Kevin Atkins, remote 
drafting ? which requires sheep to walk through drafting gates and 
separate into groups ? opens the way for new ways of managing sheep. 

"Sheep are incredibly inquisitive ? and remote drafting, without humans 
around, appears to suit their natural curiosity", Dr Atkins said.
 
The researchers initially thought that an attractant - like food or water 
- would be needed to encourage sheep to go through the gates voluntarily. 

It was also expected that some of the sheep would need training to 'lead 
the mob'.

Dr Atkins said that if sheep feel comfortable they appear to let their 
inquisitiveness take over.

The research has involved developing "walk-over weighing" systems to 
collect liveweights from individual sheep, identified from electronic ear 
tags. 

DPI researcher Steve Semple, in conjunction with CAWD Engineering, 
recently designed and constructed a remote sheep drafter that will operate 
from a computer program and allow sheep to be divided into groups dictated 
by a drafting list. 

The drafter has been operating continuously at the Orange Agricultural 
Institute since mid-October in a small paddock with about 40 sheep. For 
most of this period, between 40 and 130 sheep were drafted on each day.

Dr Atkins said that this was an average of 1 to 3 drafts per animal per 
day. "Almost every animal walked through the draft each day."

Enough information was collected via the remote drafter to suggest that, 
with some modifications, the device will operate at close to 100% accuracy 
(The Orange trial achieved 95%). 

Another pleasing outcome was that the drafter was transported to Trangie 
to test its mobility. It took only 40 minutes to be set up and more than 
100 sheep were drafted in a little over 2 minutes. 

Dr Atkins said that considering the device was originally intended for use 
with a "trained" mob of sheep, which were used to a "walk over weighing" 
system, this field test was very encouraging.

Research trials are continuing.

Joanne Finlay
Science Communication Specialist
NSW Department of Primary Industries
Head Office
Locked Bag 21
ORANGE  NSW  2800
Phone: 02 6391 3171
Fax: 02 6391 3749
Email: Joanne.finlay at dpi.nsw.gov.au
 
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