Precision livestock study to focus on sheep, goat welfare

SRUC-led TechCare project involves sheep production in nine countries including Norway.

September 2, 2020

2 Min Read
SRUC precision sheep.jpg
SRUC-led TechCare project involves sheep production in nine countries including Norway.SRUC

A £5 million research project involving nine countries — from Scandinavia to the Middle East — is aiming to revolutionize the use of precision technology in sheep and goat farming, according to Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), which is leading the project.

SRUC said the TechCare project will be the biggest study of its kind for small ruminants and will focus on improving management of welfare as well as performance.

The four-year project — which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program — will assess the usefulness of different precision livestock farming (PLF) approaches for sheep and goat welfare management by, as a first step, running workshops and discussion groups with members of the industry, including farmers, transporters and abattoirs, as well as consumers and welfare associations.

Animal welfare experts and economists from SRUC will also be involved in the project.

A selection of innovative technologies, which could include wearable sensors and virtual fencing, will be tested on demonstration farms in Scotland — including SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Center — and in other partner countries before being deployed on commercial farms, to ultimately create welfare alerting systems for sheep and goat farmers.

“Many of the challenges to the welfare of sheep and goats in Scotland and Europe — including a lack of supervision, provision of feed, risk of predation and long-distance transport to slaughter — arise from the constraints imposed by the harsh climatic and geographic conditions in which they are often reared," said project leader Dr. Claire Morgan-Davies. “However, a PLF approach could help to improve welfare management and so mitigate the impact of these welfare risks for the benefit of sheep and goat farmers around the world.”

In addition to SRUC, Moredun Research Institute and Breedr Ltd. in the U.K., 16 other partners from eight other countries — Ireland, Norway, Spain, Italy, France, Romania, Greece and Israel — are involved, covering meat sheep, dairy sheep and dairy goat production.

The small ruminant population (sheep and goats) of the EU in 2015 was approximately 98 million animals, of which 87% were sheep, while there are approximately 2.4 million and 670,000 additional animals in Norway and Israel respectively. Small ruminants represent 30% of all livestock reared in Europe.

The first workshops in the project are scheduled to take place this winter.

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