Frost maps for farms and the development of a drone 'lamb cam' scoop two national awards

March 2, 2016

Amy Lockwood has won a national award for her drone monitoring of lambing ewes.Two Murdoch University scientists have been honoured with prestigious national science awards.

Sheep researcher Amy Lockwood from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences was announced last night (March 1) as the winner in the wool category of the 2016 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

She will be using the $22,000 award grant to fund a 12 month research project into the use of drones to monitor lambs and ewes during lambing.

“Current methods of monitoring lambing often involve close human observers, which may disturb the ewes and therefore alter natural ewe-lamb behaviour and increase the risk of lamb deaths," Ms Lockwood said.

“Utilising smart technology is a priority for the Australian agricultural industry in order to improve farming efficiency, and smart technologies are enabling rapid advancements in research and development in the agricultural industry.

“Not only could the use of drones be beneficial for researching ewe-lamb behaviours, but they could have wide application on farms for routine animal monitoring.”

Ms Lockwood added that drones will unlikely be able to detect everything that farmers see when observing their livestock in person but they should improve efficiency by reducing the need to drive through all mobs of sheep to inspect them.

The drone trial has already commenced on a commercial property in north-east Victoria. Lambing will occur in late April and observations will be made by drone.

The drone project will not directly form Ms Lockwood’s PhD project, which is investigating the effects of lambing density, mob size and stocking rate on ewe-lamb behaviour and lamb survival. But it will inform the design of an experiment which will help her observe these occurrences.

Dr Jatin Kala is creating frost maps for farms.

Dr Kala is investigating the link between frost and topography at the farm-scale, starting with a single research farm.

He hopes to expand the project to encompass the entire Western Australian Wheatbelt, providing farmers with an indication of the parts of their land most likely to be affected by icy nights.

“Although Australia’s south-west is becoming warmer and drier because of climate change, many farms in the Wheatbelt are actually experiencing an increase in frost,” Dr Kala said.

“If farmers know which parts of their property are most susceptible, they might be able to mitigate the risk by adopting management practices to minimise frost damage in these areas.

“I am excited by the opportunity to work on a project in the field that will have a real impact in the community.’

Frost, along with rainfall and heat stress, is one of the biggest challenges faced by the wheat industry and is estimated to cost Australian growers $95.8 million per year.

The 2016 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry aim to support young people to undertake a project on an innovative or emerging scientific issue that will contribute to the ongoing success and sustainability of Australia’s agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries.

They are coordinated by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science (ABARES) within the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.


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