In the new world of “Big Data” determining what data is reliable and what is just “noise” is vital, and the case for in-paddock walk-over-weighing (WOW) of sheep liveweight is no different according to Holmes Sackett farm business consultant David Brown.
The University of New England PhD graduate based his research on the use of WOW as a potential technology for regularly and precisely recording the live weights of individual animals and its possible application in the Australian sheep industry.
“To take the available WOW technologies to the next level, we really need to hone the system to consistently capture individual liveweight records and reduce the volume of data that isn‟t of interest to producers, so that they can monitor individual sheep or the whole flock and not feel overwhelmed by the amount of data,” he said.
WOW is commercially available technology used to remotely monitor sheep liveweight. The liveweight data is collected, processed and interpreted by livestock managers to aid nutritional management.
Through the Sheep CRC Post-Grad Training Program, Dr Brown studied the factors affecting the potential adoption of in-paddock walk-over weighing for the Australian sheep industry.
Key outcomes of the research showed that the use of WOW to monitor sheep liveweights collectively can generate flock average liveweights with 95 per cent confidence intervals of less than 2kgs within five-day timeframes.
“This shows that WOW may help the nutritional management of commercial flocks as a whole, however, we also found that there needs to be improved repeatability of the data capture process, as well as the timeliness of individual WOW data, so that users can reliably differentiate the liveweights of individual sheep and manage their nutritional needs accordingly,” Mr Brown said.
Mr Brown said that changes in ewe liveweight impacts wool production and reproductive performance of the ewe, as well as survival and lifelong performance of the progeny.
“This suggests that regular liveweight monitoring would provide a robust and versatile tool for managing sheep flocks,” he said.
Mr Brown has worked with Holmes Sackett Pty Ltd in Wagga Wagga since 2010, providing benchmarking and advice for mixed farmers in south east Australia.
Each year Sheep CRC sponsors a number of postgraduate students, like David Brown, to undertake postgraduate research programs.
Graduate tracking surveys completed between 2009 and 2013 demonstrated that 70 per cent of postgraduates have since found employment directly within the sheep and cattle industries, and that 90pc had been retained more broadly within agriculture.
Following completion of his PhD thesis in December 2013, Dr Brown has continued his research into better ways to implement in-paddock WOW.
More information on applying for Sheep CRC sponsored post-graduate training positions is available at www.sheepcrc.org.au.