Researchers at the University of Nottingham are working with agriculture industry leaders to address the challenge of lameness in sheep – and an IoT solution could provide the answer.
Lameness in sheep is one of the biggest challenges facing the agriculture industry in the UK. The vast majority of lameness is caused by footrot, a painful disease that can lead affected livestock to lose weight rapidly.
More generally, lameness causes poor productive and reproductive performance, which in turn decreases the value of affected sheep for the farmer, processor, retailer and consumer.
It’s estimated that lameness costs UK farmers between £70M and £210M annually. The Sheep Performance Improvement through Lameness Monitoring and Management (SPILaMM project) has been funded by Innovate UK in an effort to bring together academics and industry professionals from the world of agriculture. These include the University of Nottingham, meat processor Dunbia and livestock management software company FarmWizard.
Tagging and monitoring
The consortium is currently trialling IoT technology on 25 sheep farms in the UK. So far, they have developed a prototype tagging and monitoring system, combining edge processing technology from Intel and the FarmWizard platform.
The wearable device is worn on a sheep’s ear tag. From there it measures each animal’s movement and gait using an accelerometer and gyroscope. This information works in tandem with algorithms designed to alert farmers if something seems amiss.
According to research lead Dr Jasmeet Kaler, “So far they have provided high accuracy in predicting various behaviours of the sheep, including differentiating lameness.”
Because much of the processing takes place on the device rather than in the cloud, edge processing provides an advantage for battery life.
First of its kind
Speaking to Internet of Business, Dr Jasmeet Kaler said, “To my knowledge, this technology is the first time in precision livestock where algorithms have been implemented on the device. In our work, we also explored various sampling rates to find an optimum for the behaviour classification in sheep but also what will be energy efficient.”
“The use of IoT is a growing area in agriculture, especially with livestock. We need to think of innovative solutions that combine our understanding of disease biology/animal behaviour with state of art technologies – while understanding the constraints of farm management systems.”
FarmWizard founder Terry Canning sees the advent of wearables in livestock farming as the next logical step. Speaking to Internet of Business, he said, “Livestock farmers need data to help them make the right decisions to maximise efficiencies, especially with Brexit around the corner.”
“For the past 14 years, FarmWizard have been focused on improving farmer to computer interfaces, utilising devices from text messaging to smartphones to make it easy for the non-deskbound farming community to record information on their livestock. This project really excited us as livestock wearable technology allows us to collect data on animals – in this case sheep – without any intervention from the farmer.”
The first research paper outlining the results and methodology of the SPILaMM project will be published in the upcoming issue of the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Read more: Farming IoT connections to hit 27m by 2021
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