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Developing a simulated online model that integrates GNSS, accelerometer and weather data to detect parturition events in grazing sheep: A machine learning approach
journal contributionposted on 07.09.2021, 22:39 by Eloise FogartyEloise Fogarty, David SwainDavid Swain, Greg M Cronin, Luis E Moraes, Derek W Bailey, Mark TrotterMark Trotter
Near-real-time monitoring of livestock using on-animal sensor technology has the potential to improve animal welfare and productivity through increased surveillance and improved decision-making capabilities. One potentially valuable application is for monitoring of lambing events in sheep. This research reports on the development of a machine learning classification algorithm for autonomous detection of lambing events. The algorithm uses data from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) tracking collars, accelerometer ear tags and local weather data. Overall, four features of sheep behaviour were identified as having the greatest importance for lambing detection, including various measures of social distancing and frequency of posture change. Using these four features, the final algorithm was able to detect up to 91% of lambing events. This knowledge is intended to contribute to the development of commercially feasible lambing detection systems for improved surveillance of animals, ultimately improving methods of monitoring during critical welfare periods. In the current study, a simulated online parturition detection model is developed and reported. Using a machine learning (ML)-based approach, the model incorporates data from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) tracking collars, accelerometer ear tags and local weather data, with the aim of detecting parturition events in pasture-based sheep. The specific objectives were two-fold: (i) determine which sensor systems and features provide the most useful information for lambing detection; (ii) evaluate how these data might be integrated using ML classification to alert to a parturition event as it occurs. Two independent field trials were conducted during the 2017 and 2018 lambing seasons in New Zealand, with the data from each used for ML training and independent validation, respectively. Based on objective (i), four features were identified as exerting the greatest importance for lambing detection: mean distance to peers (MDP), MDP compared to the flock mean (MDP.Mean), closest peer (CP) and posture change (PC). Using these four features, the final ML was able to detect 27% and 55% of lambing events within ±3 h of birth with no prior false positives. If the model sensitivity was manipulated such that earlier false positives were permissible, this detection increased to 91% and 82% depending on the requirement for a single alert, or two consecutive alerts occurring. To identify the potential causes of model failure, the data of three animals were investigated further. Lambing detection appeared to rely on increased social isolation behaviour in addition to increased PC behaviour. The results of the study support the use of integrated sensor data for ML-based detection of parturition events in grazing sheep. This is the first known application of ML classification for the detection of lambing in pasture-based sheep. Application of this knowledge could have significant impacts on the ability to remotely monitor animals in commercial situations, with a logical extension of the information for remote monitoring of animal welfare.