GPS aid to pick the preferred paddock

Cally DupeThe West Australian
CSIRO senior research scientist Dean Thomas.
Camera IconCSIRO senior research scientist Dean Thomas. Credit: Cally Dupe

Identifying preferred grazing areas could be the labour-saving technique which draws livestock farmers to GPS technology, researchers say.

CSIRO livestock systems scientist Dean Thomas said he believed GPS technology could drive huge productivity gains in the agriculture sector.

He said farms across Australia could one day be using GPS technology to monitor sheep flocks’ location and their travel patterns.

“It’s really about the ability to check sheep more regularly and put management interventions in place in a more timely fashion,” Mr Thomas said.

“It’s also about peace of mind. Farmers know exactly what is happening in their flock at any one time.”

Mr Thomas was one of several scientists who spoke at the Livestock ’17 event at Kendenup.

Farmers from Eneabba to Williams experimented with GPS technology and collected data about sheep movement and grazing habits as part of CSIRO trials.

The GPS trackers were attached to four sheep per flock, across seven flocks of 400 to 600 at Eneabba, UWA and Williams. Each sheep’s movement was reported real-time to a computer screen in Perth, for four weeks, with scientists monitoring results.

Mr Thomas helped to co-ordinate the CSIRO trials and said they were designed to prove how the precision technology could be used.

Applications included water checking, paddock use, flock health, lambing, predation alert, escapes, feed monitoring and energy balance.

Mr Thomas said the collected demonstrated the productivity gains that flowed to farmers when they controlled exactly where sheep grazed. “This technology is also quite important to identify areas of a paddock that are under-used,” he said.

“There is a high chance of losing valuable feed if sheep aren’t going to graze in that area.

“It can also identify overgrazing, so those areas that are more susceptible to erosion damage.”

Mr Thomas said there were a number of companies putting together the technology for commercial sale.

He said CSIRO was investigating the cost of commercialising the technology but plans were not yet set in stone.

A survey of WA sheep producers showed mixed opinions about the take up of GPS to manage mobs.

Mr Thomas said about 60-70 per cent of those surveyed by CSIRO felt positive about the technology.

“The main finding was that the behaviour activity patterns can be quite informative in terms of management making,” he said.

“It really proved that the data is useful and assessed what form that data needs to be in.”

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