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The challenge

How to improve lamb survival?

Producing one or two lambs every year is one of the most important jobs an ewe has to do successfully.

Some of our EweWatch ewes wearing devices under video surveillance

The first 48 hours are the riskiest time in the life of a lamb. A good smooth lambing process is pivotal to set up lamb and ewe for success in this critical early post-lambing time. In contrast, difficult lambing, also described as dystocia, can lead to poor bonding between ewe and lamb and puts both at risk.

Underlying causes leading to dystocia are difficult to investigate at scale, as direct or video observation is labour- and cost-intensive. We’re researching new approaches for the better management and reduction of dystocia.

Our response

EweWatch – developing detection methods for dystocia

At our livestock research station at Armidale in New South Wales, we have set up a lambing facility investigating how we can detect and identify dystocia. Here, ewes wearing accelerometer-based devices lamb are under observation by 24 hour video surveillance.

The system allows us to investigate the behaviour before, during and after lambing, and to compare the behaviour of ewes experiencing dystocia or normal lambing.

We have also investigated the use of hand-held pen-side blood analytics to identify biomarkers for dystocia.

This project is supported by Meat and Livestock Australia.

Some of our EweWatch ewes and their very cute lambs

The results

Automated detection of lambing and improved understanding of dystocia

We've developed a new methodology for the detection of lambing events based on movement data. This is a promising technology which will allow us to collect more accurate lamb production data, with the potential to improve the accuracy of genetic value estimations.

Our video observations have shown that ewes behave differently if they are about to have a dystocic lambing event, and we have also shown differences in the maternal care given to dystocic lambs. This supports the notion that poor mothering behaviour can be a consequence of dystocia.

We have shown that there are differences in blood parameters between normal and dystocic lambing events. There are also differences between cohorts, and a next step is more investigation into the identification of biomarkers for dystocia.

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