Using novel sensing technology, experts from the UK have found that lame sheep adjust how they carry out certain activities rather than simply reducing the amount they do.
In the first study of its kind, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Open Science, a team from the University of Nottingham have been able to demonstrate the automated detection of lameness in sheep when standing, lying and walking, using a new prototype tagging and monitoring system.
Lameness is a big health and welfare problem on sheep farms, much of it caused by foot rot—a bacterial infection.
As sheep are a ‘prey’ species they are likely to mask signs of lameness when they feel threatened. This has meant that up to now, diagnosis has been difficult and relies on visual inspection because there are no validated commercial tools available.
The smart wearable technology that has been developed consists of a sensing device worn on a sheep’s ear tag that gathers accelerometer and gyroscope data, effectively tracking the animal’s behaviour and movement and its way of walking. The algorithms are used to create different alerts for farmers.
What is particularly novel about the technology is that it uses edge processing which means it doesn’t need to send all the data to the cloud because it does the thinking on the device, which helps with battery life.
For all three activities (standing, walking and lying), the study has identified features that differ between lame and non-lame sheep. This is particularly novel in lying and standing, where lameness related behaviours are difficult to spot with the human eye.
The results suggest that lameness doesn’t so much affect the amount of activity sheep do; rather it causes sheep to do activities differently, leading to a change in acceleration and rotational movement.