By Michelle Reeves and Aimee Walker
From May to October, Michelle has been working in the field, collecting data through two experiments. The first researched the effect of parasitism on lambs’ welfare in an indoor system. The second examined behavioural differences between healthy sheep and sheep facing naturally occurring welfare challenges such as parasitism, lameness and mastitis. This second trial also tested the ability of technological tools, such as accelerometers and GPS, to distinguish between healthy and diseased sheep. The overarching goal of both field trials was to narrow down the list of useful welfare indicators that could be read by PLF technology. Through this field work, Michelle gained valuable skills in the lab, in animal handling, and in the use of various technology. Now that summer is over, Michelle is starting to analyse her data. She hopes to be able to share initial results in the coming months. Additionally, planning for next year’s experiments is ongoing; Michelle will apply the lessons learned in the field this year combined with information gleaned from results to build a robust longitudinal trial for 2022.
Over the last 9 months Aimee has been working on the development and assessment of a multi-sensor kit. This was first piloted on sheep in May, where the aim of the first study was to explore whether sensors could be used as a means of assessing the ewe-lamb relationship during the early lactation period. Particularly investigating whether Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) could be used to infer proximity and monitor interactions. The study additionally aimed to test the principle of transmitting real-time data wirelessly from multiple sensors. Further experiments during the summer aimed to investigate how the signal strength of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) altered with distance and height and evaluate the limits of the technology in determining proximity. Aimee is currently analysing data from the first experiments to assess the capacity of the devices and BLE technology. This information will be used to inform on the device and study design which will be applied to monitor ewe-lamb relationships between lambing and weaning in 2022.