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Determination of ewe behaviour around lambing time and prediction of parturition 7 days prior to lambing by tri-axial accelerometer sensors in an extensive farming system

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Context: Lamb loss and dyctocia are two major challenges in extensive farming systems. While visual observation can be impractical due to the large sizes of paddocks, number of animals and high labour cost, wearable sensors can be used to monitor the behaviour of ewes as there might be changes in their activities prior to lambing. This provides sufficient time for the farm manager to nurse those ewes that are at risk of dyctocia. Aim: The objective of this study was to determine whether the behaviour of a pregnant ewe could predict the time of parturition. Methods: Two separate trials were conducted: the first trial (T1), with 32 ewes, included human/video observations, and the second trial (T2), with 165 ewes, conducted with no humans present, to emulate real extensive farming settings. The ewes were fitted with tri-axial accelerometer sensors by means of halters. Three-dimensional movement data were collected for a period of at least 7 and 14 days in T1 and T2 respectively. The sensor units were retrieved, and their data downloaded using ActiGraph software. Ewe behaviour was determined through support vector machine learning (SVM) algorithm, including licking, grazing, rumination, walking, and idling. The behaviours of ewes predicted by analysis of sensor data were compared with behaviours determined using visual observation (video recordings), with time synchronisation to validate the results. Deep learning and neural-network algorithms were used to predict lambing time. Key results: The concordance percentages between visual observation and sensor data were 90 ± 11, 81 ± 15, 95 ± 10, 96 ± 6, and 93 ± 8% ± s.d. for grazing, licking, rumination, idling, and walking respectively. The deep-learning model predicted the time of lambing with 90% confidence via a quantile regression method, which can be interpereted as 90% prediction intervals, and shows that the time of lambing can be predicted with reasonable confidence approximately 240 h before the actual lambing events. Conclusion: It was possible to predict the time of parturition up to 10 days before lambing. Implications: The behaviour of ewes around lambing time has a direct effect on the survival of the lambs and therefore plays an important part in animal management. This knowledge could improve the productivity of sheep and considerably decrease lamb mortality rates.

History

Publication Date

2022-07-08

Journal

Animal Production Science

Volume

62

Issue

17

Article Number

21460

Pagination

10p. (p. 1729-1738)

Publisher

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Publishing

ISSN

0816-1089

Rights Statement

© 2022 The Author(s) (or their employer(s)). Published by CSIRO Publishing. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).