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The SmartShepherd system has been used by one Poll Dorset breeder this year to increase accuracy and decrease workload of collecting dam pedigree.

SmartShepherd is a mothering up process, with producers fitting a collar (with a small device attached) to both the ewes and lambs in any one flock or lambing group. Each collar device is paired to the electronic or visual eartag of the animal, and back to the paddock they go. The devices then determine (via bluetooth connection) which lamb belongs to which ewe. Two or so days later, the animals return to the yards and the collars are removed. Data from the devices is read by the SmartShepherd technology and pedigree results are returned to the breeder.

This year Mark Yates at Barwon Poll Dorsets, Yerong Creek, NSW, used the collars for his autumn lambing, after trialling the system last year, and was impressed with the results.

“It has been marvellous for me without staff, and not wanting to be running around the paddock everyday myself. The simple fact of the matter is if I want to stay in the industry, I’ve got to use this technology - but it is not for everyone, the management (during the process) is intense,” Mark said.

After pregnancy scanning, Mark drafted the ewes into early and late lambing mobs, and at the commencement of lambing drifted lambed ewes to new paddocks every seven to 10 days, enabling him to assign a date of birth to within 3-5 days to lambs. When each drifted mob’s lambs reached about two weeks of age, they were yarded and marked, with electronic identification tags. Collars holding the SmartShepherd devices were then applied to each lamb and ewe in the mob, with the devices paired to the eID tag of each animal.

They were then sent back to the paddock for 48 hours before returning to the yards and the collars being removed and returned to the SmartShepherd office. The system successfully mothered up all but 16 of Mark’s 760 autumn lambs.

“It is highly intense when you put the collars on, but pretty easy other than that. You need three to four people when collaring, but it allowed me to mother up 760 lambs in three days. It works for me - I want my ewes to have recorded lambs and this is a way I can do it. Plus, the technology will get better all the time,” Mark said.

The cost of the system is $4.50 per animal with a successful pedigree match, equating to $9 for a single litter and $13.50 for twins, plus facilitation fees of the SmartShepherd representative.

Elise Bowen, Sheep Data Management, helped facilitate the process at Barwon.

"It is exciting to see how quickly technology is developing in the sheep industry and how technology can be applied to address some of the challenges with data collection. While I still advocate for tagging at birth as the gold standard for data collection, I understand that this is not achievable for everyone,” she said.

The advent of SmartShepherd gives breeders another option - it is cheaper than DNA testing, and much less labour intensive than mothering up in the yards. It is important to have pregnancy scanning data so you can correct the birth type of the lambs, and also have a strategy in place to be able to record the date of birth as close to actual as possible."