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Sm@RT demonstrates digital technologies to improve efficiency of small ruminant production

There are approximately 98 million small ruminant animals in the EU, of which 87% are sheep. Thus small ruminant (sheep and goat) farming is important to the rural economy of many countries. To improve labour efficiency and productivity, innovative digital technologies or Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) tools, are used routinely in other livestock sectors e.g., dairy and pig. However, the uptake of these technologies by the small ruminant sector is low for a number of reasons.

The Sm@RT Transnational Workshop was attended by over 90 sheep and goats’ industry stakeholders from Ireland, France, Norway, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, UK and Israel. The stakeholders attending the workshop included farmers, advisors, meat processors, vets and researchers. During the Sm@RT Transnational Workshop there were multiple breakout sessions, each dealing with available technologies that can improve small ruminant efficiency. The five areas in small ruminant production which were discussed included: 1) feeding/grazing; 2) health/welfare/reproduction; 3) milking; 4) finishing/fattening; and 5) flock management. Details of the Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) technologies, including videos of the technologies in operation, were presented for discussion by the delegates in breakout rooms.

From the 16 PLF technologies identified to solve challenges for the feeding/grazing theme, delegates voted that Electronic ID weighcrates + autosorter, and drones were the best technologies presented at the meeting. The Electronic ID weighcrate + autosorter was chosen as it facilitates automatic weight recording, determines live weight change and facilitates automatic drafting.

Of the 24 PLF technologies/tools presented for the health/welfare/reproduction theme delegates voted the sheep conveyor, automatic milk feeders for lambs and 3D-imaging as the best tools presented. The conveyor was chosen as it restrains and moves animals during dosing and vaccinating without physical strain on the farmer. Automatic feeders facilitate artificially rearing large numbers of lambs with minimal labour input.

Under the milking theme, delegates chose the milk meter + management software and somatic cell counter as the best technologies presented. The milk meter + management software was chosen as it quantifies individual ewe milk yields and thus identifies the best performing animals.

Under the fattening/finishing theme, 10 PLF solutions were identified with the delegates voting the flock recording app and automatic grass measuring as the best technologies. The flock recording app was chosen as it saves time when recording data and can help with selecting replacements, animals for culling, etc.

For the flock management theme, 11 PLF technologies/tools were identified, and delegates voted for the data recording system, environmental station + cooler, and an app for measurement and analysis of working time as the best technologies. The data recording system was chosen as it saves time when recording data and can help with selecting replacement and cull animals.

The videos presented at the Sm@RT TNWS are available for viewing on the Sm@RT YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCafSFzvQvNLRdcucJEWONCQ/videos)

The PLF solutions presented by Ireland at the transnational workshop included weightcrate + autosorter, EID handheld, Smartfence, flock recording apps, faecal egg count software, sheep conveyor, pasture management app, automated pasture measurement and pregnancy scanning. Videos for each solution will shortly be available on the Sm@RT website https://smartplatform.network/eureka-farmbook/

Dr Tim Keady, National Facilitator for Sm@RT based at Teagasc Athenry said: “this workshop demonstrated that there are many technologies available that can be used in the production of small ruminants that improve labour efficiency, enterprise productivity and profitability. However some technologies are currently not cost effective.”

Dr Brid McClearn from Teagasc Athenry said: “This project uses a variety of methods to facilitate exchange of knowledge and practical information, which was evident at our transnational workshop with stakeholders representing small ruminant industries in 8 different countries”.

The next Irish National Workshop will be held in early June 2022, followed by our 3rd  Transnational workshop in early July 2022, due to be held in St Affrique, near Montpellier, France. If interested, please contact Tim Keady (tim.keady@teagasc.ie) or Brid McClearn (brid.mcclearn@teagasc.ie).



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