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Can accelerometer ear tags identify behavioural changes in sheep associated with parturition?
journal contributionposted on 16.06.2021, 01:14 by Eloise FogartyEloise Fogarty, David SwainDavid Swain, GM Cronin, LE Moraes, Mark TrotterMark Trotter
On-animal sensor systems provide an opportunity to monitor ewes during parturition, potentially reducing ewe and lamb mortality risk. This study investigated the capacity of machine learning (ML) behaviour classification to monitor changes in sheep behaviour around the time of lambing using ear-borne accelerometers. Accelerometers were attached to 27 ewes grazing a 4.4 ha paddock. Data were then classified based on three different ethograms: (i) detection of grazing, lying, standing, walking; (ii) detection of active behaviour; and (iii) detection of body posture. Proportion of time devoted to performing each behaviour and activity was then calculated at a daily and hourly scale. Frequency of posture change was also calculated on an hourly scale. Assessment of each metric using a linear mixed-effects model was conducted for the 7 days (day scale) or 12 h (hour scale) before and after lambing. For all physical movements, regardless of the ethogram, there was a change in the days surrounding lambing. This involved either a decrease (grazing, lying, active behaviour) or peak (standing, walking) on the day of parturition, with most values returning to either pre-partum or near-pre-partum levels (all P < 0.001). Hourly changes also occurred for all behaviours (all P < 0.001), the most marked being increased walking behaviour and frequency of posture change. These findings indicate ewes were more restless around the time of parturition. Further application of this research should focus on development of algorithms that can be used to identify onset of lambing and/or time of parturition in pasture-based ewes.