Integrating innovative TECHnologies along the value Chain to improve small ruminant welfARE management

An Italian pilot farm with dairy sheep to test innovative technologies for welfare monitoring

– by M. Decandia, V. Giovanetti, M. Acciaro (AGRIS)

Bonassai, an experimental farm of the regional research agency of Sardinia AGRIS (Italy), is located on the North –West of Sardinia. The farm has an area of 330 ha (181 crops + 200 pastoral) with alluvial soil. In the farm, 1100 dairy sheep belonging to Sarda breed are raised with a semi-intensive system. The sheep are fed at pasture, supplemented with chopped hay and concentrate, they are housed only overnight. The mating period is May – June for adult ewes and August – September for ewe-lambs, with one lambing per year. The milk produced is sold to a cooperative and the lactating lambs are sold to a private slaughterhouse at 30 days of age. This farm is involved as pilot farm in TECHCARE project to test innovative technologies for welfare monitoring.



Among the innovative technologies evaluated in AGRIS pilot farm there is the Walk over weighing (WoW). It is a weight scale able to measure the weight of unconstrained sheep while walking on the weight platform. We adopted the prototype developed by INRAE (Gonzalez- Garcia et al., 2018, Gonzalez- Garcia et al., 2021). This digital tool has proven to accurately measure the weight of sheep (after data filtering) and has also shown good performance to measure short-term forage intake in sheep fed low amount of hay (Gonzalez-Garcia et al., 2017). The WoW represents a valid alternative to the static scales, conventionally used on meat sheep farms and could contribute to the close monitoring of individual live weight (LW) without operator intervention (i.e., voluntary weighing), taking animal welfare into account (i.e., no stress related to the weighing session on static scales), even in dairy sheep farms to potentially detect nutrition issues highlighted by LW changes.

This technology has been used together with others (e.g. flowmeters, milk tank weigh, static weigh, indoor and outdoor weather stations, GPS, Delaval Cell Counter etc.) in an experiment with dairy sheep fed at pasture. During the experiment different welfare animal indicators have been also recorded e.g. BCS, dag score, gait score, fleece cleanliness, mastitis and udder lesion, leg injuries. In the experiment, the sheep rotationally grazed an Italian ryegrass pasture with different access time.

The behaviour of sheep at pasture has also been monitored with GPS to check the movement, the hourly distance and the average daily speed of the animals. All data measured by the sensors has been also recorded in a platform built by Abinsula (one of the main Italian players in Embedded, IoT, Web and Mobile solutions).

All pictures © AGRIS