The biggest study of its kind for sheep and goats is focusing on improving management of welfare using digital technologies.

The TechCare project is a European project led by Dr Claire Morgan-Davies, at the SRUC Hill and Mountain Research Centre near Crianlarich.

The project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It involves nine countries; France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Norway, Romania, Spain and the UK.

The project has prioritised welfare issues in small ruminants with the creation of an inventory of potential precision livestock farming (PLF) tools.

Trials and prototyping of some of the identified PLF tools are near completion on pilot farms and on experimental farms in the UK and Europe.

Deployment and further testing of the tools are being set up on commercial farms in Ireland, France, Romania, Greece and Spain.

The Scottish Farmer: Nutritional issues were identifed as an important area fo researchNutritional issues were identifed as an important area fo research

To asses animal welfare five tools have been investigated:

1) Weigh crate, with or without electronic identification (EID), to look at body weight change, as an indicator of nutritional issues, mastitis or parasitism.

2) EID readers.

3) Accelerometers for behaviour change indicators.

4) GPS and proximity sensors, to look at behaviour and use of resources, as indicators of nutritional issues, mastitis, lameness, maternal relationship and lamb mortality.

5) Environmental sensors like weather stations for shed and external environment indicators, related to issues of nutrition, parasitism.

These tools are being tested both at the SRUC Hill and Mountain Research Centre and at the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh.

SRUC has two PhD students in Scotland who are looking in more detail into the welfare indicators and the potential PLF tools that could be used.

Michelle Reeves is focusing on the development and validation of animal-based welfare indicators for a PLF approach to small ruminant welfare management, while Aimee Walker’s study is looking at adopting PLF technologies to improve small ruminant management and welfare in grazing systems.

Aimee has been assessing whether collars placed on ewes and lambs can not only help identify which ewe is the mother of which lamb, but also help flag when the ewe and lamb are out of contact for a prolonged period. The latter can be a major issue in extensive flocks, leading to malnutrition and undernutrition of the lamb.