Dr Amanda Doughty

Amanda is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW. Her work focuses on assessing and reducing welfare risks of livestock kept in extensive environments. Amanda is currently involved in a Sheep CRC project focused on developing a proactive management tool that can be used to assess the health and welfare status of grazing sheep. Amanda completed her Master in Animal Studies with an RSPCA-funded project that focused on the origin and condition of horses relinquished to an Australian abattoir and her PhD investigated the use of motivation as a welfare measurement.

Topic: Cameras, phones, apps and drones: Using technology to assess the welfare of grazing sheep

Sheep have been kept for their meat, milk and wool for over 5,000 years. Traditionally, they have been run across large tracts of land and have been cared for by sheepherders whose job it was to keep the flock intact, ensure that sufficient feed was available, protect the flock from predators and move it as required for general husbandry procedures i.e. shearing.

The first sheep arrived in Australia in 1788 and, as reliable fencing was not common until well into the 1800’s, sheep in this country were also run in large unfenced areas. Again, shepherds were required to prevent the flock from straying as well as to provide protection from various predators, such as dingos.

Over time farming has become more intensified and sheep management has changed. Now sheep are run in fenced paddocks and are frequently left alone for varying periods.

As the welfare and health of sheep in these grazing systems has become increasingly important in the Australian production environment, this method of management is becoming less sustainable. However, due to technological advances the welfare of sheep may now able to be assessed in an automated or semi-automated fashion. Using a variety of behavioural changes, new technologies and electronic ear tags, we are developing a system that will allow individual sheep to be identified as their welfare and health status changes.  The aim is to provide producers with a ‘real time’ monitoring tool for their flocks so they can be alerted to an issue before, or as it is occurring. In this way producers can increase their levels of monitoring and can proactively manage their flocks to decrease welfare compromise.