Trying to lift the odds

By Country News

A young scientist is trying to increase the survival of ewes and their twin or triplet lambs, by developing a greater understanding of ewe and lamb behaviours around the time of birth.

Travis Allington was one of 14 people who received awards for their innovative contributions to the livestock and wider agriculture industry.

‘‘Improving lamb survival is a significant issue facing sheep farmers and the meat industry at the moment,’’ he said.

‘‘Australian farmers care for the welfare of their animals, and we are working on developing and facilitating the adoption of new management techniques to help them achieve this.

‘‘My project will specifically look at the multiple-born portion of the sheep flock, which are most vulnerable under extensive grazing conditions.’’

Mr Allington said farmers were anecdotally identifying paddocks that achieved better lamb survival year after year.

‘‘But we don’t necessarily know why those particular paddocks are a lot better and whether those paddocks are changing the ewe’s behaviour.’’

Mr Allington will attach new sensor technology to sheep to capture the location and behaviour of ewes during lambing.

‘‘The project’s a little bit of a proof-of-concept to look at whether the sensor technology can be used to look at maternal behaviour of multiple bearing ewes on a larger scale,’’ he said.

‘‘So things like time of birth, the length of the ewe’s labour, time at the birth site and interactions from other ewes to see how that is affecting lamb survival.’’

Mr Allington has been around the sheep industry since he was a child, growing up on a farm north of Perth.

He held research positions in Australia and the Falklands before returning to Murdoch University to do his PhD.

‘‘Most of the research that I’ve done, and most of the research I’ll do in the future, I’m trying to make it as useful to the farmer as possible.’’

He believes the sensors have huge potential, and this project is just the tip of the iceberg.

‘‘The potential in terms of measuring animal welfare on ewes and sheep in Australia is massive with these types of sensors, to increase both welfare and production,’’ he said.

The Science and Innovation award winner received recognition from Meat & Livestock Australia for his research.