Friday, 15 April 2022 09:55

Staggeringly exciting research may save sheep farmers

Written by  Staff Reporters
Professor Derek Bailey from New Mexico State University led the research team looking into ryegrass staggers in sheep. Professor Derek Bailey from New Mexico State University led the research team looking into ryegrass staggers in sheep.

Livestock researchers around the world can now remotely detect ryegrass staggers in sheep using on-animal sensors.

This follows research findings from an international team – including researchers from Lincoln University and CQ University in Central Queensland.

Results from the study means that, in the future, farmers will be able to act quickly and move sheep to new pastures when they begin to display the signs of (grass) staggers – potentially improving their bottom line by $100 per hectare.

Grass stagger is caused by the consumption of plants such as phalaris and ryegrass – common in both Australia and New Zealand – that
are infected with toxic strains of endophyte. It can be fatal if animals have experienced prolonged exposure to toxic pasture.

Toxic strains of endophytes can also be present in tall fescue, which is a common forage in the eastern and Midwestern United States.

The research team was led by Professor Derek Bailey from New Mexico State University, who also holds an Adjunct position at CQUniversity and works closely with CQU’s Rockhampton-based Precision Livestock Management group led by Prof Mark Trotter.

The pair also worked with researchers from Lincoln University in monitoring the behaviours of sheep grazing perennial ryegrass using accelerometers and GPS devices.

“Visual monitoring or periodic testing for staggers is time consuming and labour intensive, especially when sheep are kept in large groups or in extensively grazed pastures,” Trotter explains.  “However, on-animal sensors can remotely monitor and detect changes in animal behaviour, so that when certain behaviours are exhibited they can determine if an animal is ill.” He adds that the emergence of smart-tags for real-time monitoring of livestock may allow farmers to respond more rapidly when animals become ill.

“Previous economic modelling has suggested that the value to the sheep industry of being alerted to staggers and then being able to quickly manage it would be worth over $100 per hectare in additional income.”

The research findings, recently published in the journal Smart Agricultural Technology, show that animals grazing the infected pasture moved more slowly than sheep in the endophyte-free control pasture.

Machine learning analysis of accelerometer data showed that the activity of sheep that suffered staggers was increased in the morning and midday towards the end of the trial.

The study was conducted at Lincoln, where sheep fitted with collars containing accelerometers and GPS tracking devices were grazed on ryegrass for 17 days in autumn.

 Bailey says the GPS devices tracked animals at 3-minute intervals and the accelerometers recorded movements at 12 times per second.

“Although more research is needed, the combination of machine learning and real-time monitoring of sheep behaviour with accelerometers and GPS has potential to detect when endophyte toxin levels affect their well-being (ryegrass staggers) and the animals should be moved to a different pasture,” Bailey concludes.

More like this

Battle of wearables

It was the battle of the wearables at the recent Lincoln University Demonstration Dairy Farm Focus Day with presentations of three different electronic monitoring and management systems.

'Pig' of a new welfare code

NZ's pig farming sector believes if a new draft welfare code for pigs is adopted it could spell the end of the country's pork industry.

Turning theory into practicality

Kirstin Deuss believes the findings of her research work into soil drainage in Southland will have benefits for other parts of New Zealand as well.


Time's up

Chris Lewis, a Feds national board member and spokesman on immigration and labour issues for the past two years, will…

B+LNZ bosses head to Europe

For the first time since Covid-19 travel restrictions were implemented, Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) says it will send…

Deer management funding welcomed

The NZ Game Animal Council (GAC) welcomes the $30 million allocated in Budget 2022 to implement the New Zealand Biodiversity…

Machinery & Products

A new approach to apprenticeships

By taking a new approach to its apprenticeship programme, agricultural equipment supplier Norwood says it is ensuring farmers’ machinery will…

Buck-Rake does the job

With many self-propelled forage harvester manufacturers offering machines hitting 1000hp, the bottleneck in any harvesting system is always likely to…

Pigtail standards made to last

Feedback from farmers highlighted frustration at the time and cost involved in frequently replacing failed pigtail posts.

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Done deal

OPINION: This old mutt continues to be flabbergasted by the sheer audacity and mendacious behaviour of the current inhabitants of…

Joined at hip?

OPINION: The Hound suggests if there was any doubt that our so-called farmer industry bodies are little more than a…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter