Precision Livestock Farming project to focus on sheep welfare management

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A £5 million research project led by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and involving nine countries – from Scandinavia to the Middle East – is seeking to revolutionise the use of precision technology in sheep and goat farming.

‘TechCare’ will be the biggest study of its kind for small ruminants and will focus on improving management of welfare, as well as performance. In addition to SRUC, Moredun Research Institute and Breedr Ltd in the UK, sixteen other partners from eight other countries – Ireland, Norway, Spain, Italy, France, Romania, Greece and Israel – are involved, covering meat sheep, dairy sheep and dairy goat production.

The project will see a selection of innovative technologies, which could include wearable sensors and virtual fencing, tested on demonstration farms in Scotland – including SRUC’s Hill and Mountain Research Centre near Loch Lomond – and in other partner countries before being deployed on commercial farms, to ultimately create welfare alerting systems for sheep and goat farmers.

Precision Livestock Farming (PLF)

The four-year project, which is being funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, will begin by assessing the usefulness of different Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) approaches for sheep and goat welfare management via a series of workshops and discussion groups with farmers, transporters and abattoirs, as well as consumers and welfare associations. Animal welfare experts and economists from SRUC will also be involved in the project. The first workshops are scheduled to take place later this year.

Many of the challenges to the welfare of sheep and goats in Scotland and Europe – including a lack of supervision, provision of feed, risk of predation, and long-distance transport to slaughter – arise from the constraints imposed by the harsh climatic and geographic conditions in which they are often reared,” explained Dr Claire Morgan-Davies, who is leading the project. “However, a PLF approach could help to improve welfare management and so mitigate the impact of these welfare risks for the benefit of sheep and goat farmers around the world.”

The small ruminant population (sheep and goats) of the EU in 2015 was approximately 98 million animals, of which 87% were sheep, while there are approximately 2.4 million and 670,000 additional animals in Norway and Israel respectively. Small ruminants represent 30% of all livestock reared in Europe.

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