Virtual sheep management a reality

On-farm trials of off-the-shelf technology have shown that farmers can manage sheep from an office hundreds of kilometres from the flock.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries and the Australian Sheep Industry CRC (Sheep CRC) said e-sheep® will give the industry the power to boost production and cut costs through more efficient flock management.

E-sheep® project officer with the NSW DPI, Bill Murray, said the aim was to adapt available technology to suit the needs of the industry.

“It really comes down to improving the efficiency of production – as margins become narrower and narrower we need to become more efficient and e-sheep® really does allow more efficient sheep production,” said Mr Murray.

“The cost of checking stock and water can be very high, especially in the Western Division, and we’ve set up a remote yard in outback Bourke which will minimise those costs because sheep can be monitored from the farm office.”

Structured around the natural behaviour of the animals readings are taken every day when sheep come to the yard for water and supplementary feed.

As they enter the gate a Tru-Test scanner reads their identity number from a radio frequency e-tag fitted to the sheep’s ear.

At the same time weights are recorded on a set of Prattley scales and linked to individual identity numbers. All recorded data is instantly available on the farm computer via a CDMA modem.

Bourke sheep producer Tony Thompson said e-sheep® was a huge breakthrough with the potential to deliver additional benefits.

“Not just for sheep this is the most exciting thing that’s come along for the whole grazing industry,” said Mr Thompson.

“It’s a unique tool we haven’t seen in the industry before. Not only can we cut costs, suddenly we have a system that will allow graziers to collect information accurately and in future we’ll be able to use that information to better manage animals in ways we never thought of before.

“If there is a mob of animals with huge variations in performance we’ll be able to manipulate individuals in the mob to improve performance,” he said.

“It would pay for itself in five minutes if the water system failed and the remote system picked it up.”

Mr Thompson’s predictions have moved a step closer with the introduction of auto-drafting technology which will allow farmers to draft sheep in a remote location.

The Sheep CRC is holding its “Wool Meets Meat - tools for a modern sheep enterprise” conference in Orange on February 22 and 23 which will feature results from e-sheep® research and development. E-sheep® information is available from www.sheepcrc.org.au/e-sheep

Media contact:

Bernadette York, NSW DPI Orange Agricultural Institute (02) 6391 3936 or 0427 773 785
Electronic images are available from bernadette.york@dpi.nsw.gov.au