Dogs sniff out breech strike

Kate PollardThe West Australian

Man's best friend, already known for an ability to sniff out explosives and drugs, can now add detecting fly strike resistant sheep to that skill set.

It took three months for handlers at the Hanrob International Dog Academy in Sydney to train a Collie cross cattle dog and Staffy cross whippet to differentiate between breech strike resistant and susceptible sheep.

As part of a Department of Agriculture and Food WA project, funded by Australian Wool Innovation, wool samples were taken from AWI breech strike flocks at Mt Barker and Chiswick in New South Wales.

Hanrob senior detector dog trainer Wayne Grewar, who has 25 years experience training dogs, said detection for flystrike was new ground.

To teach the dogs, Mr Grewar said a series of empty tins, and those with susceptible and resistant samples, were placed on the ground.

When dogs went to the target, which was the resistant wool, they were given a command, knew to sit and would be rewarded and were taught to ignore wool from susceptible sheep.

Mr Grewar said they had to make sure the samples were not contaminated and the scent remained.

The idea to use sniffer dogs to measure odours belonged to DAFWA researcher Johan Greeff.

Early research identified huge differences between the progeny of different rams and breech strike.

Unable to explain why there was a large variation even after considering wrinkles, dag score and urine stains, researchers decided to look whether odour played a role.

After training, both dogs could differentiate with 100 per cent accuracy between susceptible and resistance samples from Mt Barker.

When tested to see if they could differentiate between wool samples from the breech strike trial in NSW, the dogs were 82 per cent accurate in identifying resistant samples and 92 per cent accurate in ignoring susceptible samples.

"Its shows there must be some odour component that attracts the flies to the sheep," Dr Greeff said.

AWI is now funding a project at the University of WA to look at specific odour compounds. They are working to identify the differences in odour components between susceptible and resistant sheep and if they attract or reply flies.

If that is the case, then it will be determined whether it's a heritable trait that could be used as an indicator trait to identify resistant or susceptible sheep before they are being struck.

AWI program manager Geoff Lindon said funding has been approved for a three year in depth study. He said the outcomes support the hypothesis odours either attract or repel flies. He said some sheep high in wrinkle and dags didn't get struck and some low in wrinkle and dag did which requires further research into the causes of breech strike.

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