A SmartShepherd device attached to a Merino ewe using a collar. Co-developer of the device, Dave Rubie, said it can accurately match a ewe with her offspring.

A smarter way to match ewes with their lambs

An Armidale company has developed an electronic smart tag which matches ewes with their lambs while they are running in the paddock.

An Australian designed electronic smart tag which can accurately match ewes with their offspring has been shortlisted for an international innovation award for farm tech start-ups.

SmartShepherd was developed by an Armidale-based company of the same name co-founded by David Rubie and Glenn Vasallo.

Mr Rubie, who worked for Sheep Genetics Australia for 12 years, was “pleasantly surprised” the SmartShepherd tag was in the running for the award run by US-based AgFunder, an online investment platform.

The innovation awards will be announced at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco on March 20-21.

“We have been so busy refining our platform and racing towards deliveries of the system in March that we haven’t been paying much attention to the international ag-tech scene,” Mr Rubie said.

“We are lucky to have continuing support from SOSV (Sean O’Sullivan Ventures) and Meat and Livestock Australia,” he said.

A SmartShepherd pod is attached to both ewes and lambs from the same mob using either a collar or a button-style ear tag.

The visual or RFID tag information for each animal is logged into their SmartShepherd pod.

The mob is then released for two days back to their paddock after which the pods are collected and the data downloaded.

The information is automatically sent to SmartShepherd and results returned quickly (typically under 24 hours).

The SmartShepherd devices are powered by a small battery and are based on a Bluetooth low-energy system which doesn’t require an internet connection.

Ewes and their lambs tend to stay close together and the frequency of their proximity is tracked by the SmartShepherd tags which communicate with each other.

Mr Rubie said field trials of the SmartShepherd system had produced 96 per cent accuracy in sheep within 48 hours.  

He said the SmartShepherd devices (expected to cost under $15 each) were waterproof and re-usable which meant producers only needed to purchase enough tags for their biggest breeding flock.

For example, 300 tags would probably be enough for a flock of 1000 breeding ewes.

Dave Rubie and Glenn Vasallo, co-founders of SmartShepherd.

RFID tags and readers weren’t compulsory but they made the process easier.

The accuracy of the SmartShepherd made them a much cheaper option for determining maternal pedigree than genomic tests, he said, and much less labour and time intensive than mothering-up by hand.

Mr Rubie said being able to track the performance of their offspring would provide valuable information about the ewe’s worth in the flock as well as other key factors such as fertility and the performance of different bloodlines.

Orders for the tags are now being taken for March delivery.

Plastic parts and circuit boards are being sourced from China but the assembly and programming of the SmartShepherd devices is being done in Armidale.

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