ABC New Australia has reported (video below) on a novel use of drone technology to make light work of a traditionally labour intensive task of checking on lambs during lambing season.
The researchers at Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) have developed a “Lambulance” drone. As the name suggests, the Lambulance is supposed to act like an ambulance; but for lambs. The reason for development of a dedicated drone system to take care of lambs at a farm is that the lamb mortality rate in a well-administered farm is about 8% every year. Considering an average selling price of $150 per lamb, a farm in Tasmania loses a revenue of about $50,000 a year. The farm under consideration happens to be the farm where the Lambulance was tested. It belongs to the Tasmanian merino farmer Rae Young and her husband Lindsay who appreciate the idea as Ms. Rae Young comments, “We’ll always embrace new technology … But I think the uses for something like that to go around and check your lambing ewes will be fantastic over time.”
Ms Young explains how the drone can be helpful with diagnosis of sick lambs, “If it’s got mastitis it’ll have an infection [and] it’ll be hotter, and if a drone can find that earlier on in the piece that’d be fantastic as well.”
The drone developed by TIA is equipped with infra-red cameras. IR cameras are used extensively for their thermographic applications as they can conveniently observe temperatures of different surfaces from far away.
“The ewe and the lamb have a heat signature,” as per Andrew Bailey, the co-creator of Lambulance, “What we’re trying to do is relate that heat signature to the likelihood of success for that animal staying alive.”
The drone can use these cameras to detect the lambs that have an un-usually higher temperature than what their average body temperature is supposed to be; indicating a fever which could be caused by different diseases – such as mastitis as pointed out by Ms. Young.
This would help with the early diagnosis of sick lambs and conveniently help breeders who keep lambs provide medication to the animals in due time.
In an entrepreneurial competition run by Adelaide University, Australian eChallenge, Lambulance made it to the finalists’ spot. Following this success, Mr. Bailey looks forward to pitching the concept of Lambulance in a scenario similar to that of the infamous TV show Shark Tanks. He jokingly commented, “Which is new ground for a sheep officer to go into a shark area,”