The Pedigree MatchMaker is an electronic system which can determine with a considerable degree of accuracy which lamb belongs to which ewe.
It uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags to measure data about the proximity of particular lambs to particular ewes as they pass through a gate to a water source.
About the Inventor
Steve Semple from Orange in western NSW. He has been involved in sheep research for almost 30 years. Before that he was in farm management. Steve originally came from Sydney, but went bush as a teenager and never looked back. Steve is fond of cricket and used to do some coaching, he also likes kayaking, and he plays golf when he can get some time.
To watch the ABC New Inventors program featuring Pedigree MatchMaker click here.
How Pedigree MatchMaker works
The design of the Pedigree Matchmaker is based around the natural tendency for a lamb to follow its mother.
RFID tags are fitted to the lambs at marking time (the ewes are already tagged) and then a raceway or run is constructed which the animals have to pass through to get to a water source.
For the next 4 – 6 weeks, each time the sheep go through the run, a data reader registers the number on their RFID tag. The numbers are logged as well as the distance (in time) between each sheep or lamb. At the end of the 4 – 6 weeks a list of tag numbers is created and automatically analysed to count the number of close associations between a lamb and ewe. The distance and frequency of pairing will give an estimation of likely pedigree.
Testing has found that it is possible to determine with a high degree of accuracy the pedigree of around 95% of a flock of 400 ewes and lambs.
Pedigree MatchMaker systems can be made to varying levels of complexity depending on how much operator involvement is required and the amount of money to be spent. There are really three levels of complexity for these systems.
1. Basic system
2. Solar powered
3. Fully remote system
All rely on having an area fenced off, with something to attract the animals, such as water or a feed supplement in the enclosure. A raceway is then used to direct animals in single file past the RFID reader where their tags can be recorded.
It is important to exclude animals from direct access to electronic equipment and leads, as they will chew them. In addition animals must be excluded for about one metre from the outside portion of the reader, so that animals standing outside the race can’t get close enough to to be accidentally read.
Recording full pedigree (sire and dam) will improve the rate of genetic gain in a ram breeding flock. Commercial producers are also interested in knowing dam pedigree as a way of monitoring individual reproductive performance in ewe flocks. Pedigree MatchMaker can be used in conjunction with sire joining records to determine pedigree and is less costly than DNA parentage tests or visually mothering-up lambs. In Sheep CRC trials, between 85–95% of lambs were matched to their dam with up to 96% accuracy using the Pedigree MatchMaker.
The Harvey family operate Gilgai Farms at Geurie in Central West NSW. They run a fine/superfine Merino flock and a Simmental beef herd on 2,800 hectares, which is grazed using Holistic Management principles.
The Harveys had been visually selecting, micron testing and fleece weighing their hoggets for some 15 years and were looking for the next productivity leap for their Merino flock. They decided to trial individual electronic identification technology so they could better identify highly productive animals for retention in the flock. Individual animal performance measures were collected prior to and at the 2015 ewe hogget shearing. For each ewe hogget the information collected was used to generate a Rampower Index Value and Ranking. This information was used to select replacement ewes for the flock and culls for sale.