Media Release: SmartShepherd Announces Availability of their World First Pedigree System for Sheep and Cattle
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Armidale, NSW, Australia – October 9th,  2017SmartShepherd, an agricultural technology company, announced today the availability of the revolutionary SmartShepherd System, which automates the collection of maternal pedigree data for livestock.

With a mission to empower farmers to breed better livestock. SmartShepherd has developed a smart tag which substantially decreases the barrier of entry to full pedigree recording and reduction of inbreeding. The SmartShepherd system functions with all large free-range livestock, including sheep, cattle and goats.

A recent field trial at Center Plus, Tullamore, Central NSW has delivered a result of 96% accuracy when compared against existing farmer pedigree records, and this was accomplished within 48 hours. SmartShepherd Co-Founder and CEO Dave Rubie said, “We are very pleased that we have been able to surpass the industry expected accuracy within 48 hours of the smart tags being attached to the sheep, and are excited to make our world-first solution available to livestock farmers.”

Centre Plus ram breeding nucleus manager, Mark Mortimer said, “I was able to get the same results in 2 days with the SmartShepherd tags that I would normally expect to get in 15 to 20 days with the pedigree match maker system. I think the real advantage of the SmartShepherd system is that you are not reliant on the sheep coming into water to get your tag read. In wet years I have struggled to get our current system to work. I can see the SmartShepherd system working in all environments and any time of the year.”

The Co-founders of SmartShepherd believe their success is due to their winning combination. Dave Rubie worked at Sheep Genetics Australia for 12 years, where he used his extensive technology and breeding expertise to assist farmers in improving breeding outcomes. Glenn Vassallo is a respected IoT (Internet of Things) expert who has worked at Microsoft and the leading IoT platform company ThingWorx, he has also received awards from Texas Instruments for his work with microcontrollers.  

Glenn Vassallo said, “I think the results speak for themselves, and are a testament to what can be achieved when the livestock industry and the technology industry combine forces. We are looking forward to building on our success and demonstrating what Australian innovation is all about.”

SmartShepherd is now taking inquires and orders from their website – http://www.smartshepherd.com.au

Glenn Vassallo
Why your ewes are important to measure

I have had quite an interesting journey over the last year – having been closely involved with the sheep industry for so long it was easy to forget that outsiders have little idea of how their tasty lamb or comfortable wool jumper magically makes it into their hands.
One of the toughest things to explain to somebody who has never been involved with livestock is the breeding process.  How sires are selected and why, and why the broader industry must focus exclusively on sire pedigree to make any practical progress.  It is always fun when the little light bulb goes on over their head when you explain why a male can have so many offspring in a single year.  Thinking about animal sexual reproduction makes people uncomfortable I suppose.

Ewes as the driver of productivity

While explaining these things to outsiders it did become increasingly apparent that this concentration on sire performance leaves a lot of unknowns.  The real drivers of profit in any sheep enterprises are breeding ewes – they are the factories of our farms and their performance with respect to fertility and mothering ability will always dictate how successful you are.


With this in mind you’re probably going to groan at the idea of adding another load of expensive and time consuming measurements to your schedule.  You might have heard that pregnancy scanning is unreliable, that mothering data is hard to manage and that the future of breeding values based on mothering is in an early state.  Well, forget all that.


There is an old saying – “if you don’t measure what you’re making, how will you know when you have it made?”.  The very same reason that you are currently performance recording relatively easy things like body weights and fleece weights is the same reason you should be recording the daughters of your sires:  it will make you money, it will reduce your risks and it will give you confidence when selecting sires for joining.  It’s also useful information to have even if you aren’t using it to generate breeding values.


If you’re a large commercial breeder the equation does change somewhat – it’s currently not practical to mother up for a lot operations.  However, that doesn’t mean you can rely on a breeding value for a maternal trait on a sire if nobody has bothered measuring his daughters.  Ask your stud breeder whether those sires have mothering and pregnancy scanning information being recorded.  No measurements generally result in low accuracy breeding values.  If you genuinely want to know accurate breeding values for Number of Lambs Weaned, somebody has got to do the mothering up on a sire’s daughters and siblings and record his mother.  Sires all carry genes to influence fertility and mothering ability that will only be expressed in their female offspring.


This brings me to an issue which is going to become much more important in the next few years:  an increasing focus on animal ethics by consumers.  The recent debate over mulesing will be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the next generation of fibre and sheep meat consumers.  In a digitally interconnected world the information that they will demand on the source of their products will only increase.  Attention will inevitably be drawn to issues like lamb survival (which has a large genetic component).  Making progress on these concerns could be the difference between your own business surviving or thriving.

A quick primer to entering information on mothering

Mothering information required by Sheep Genetics covers four broad time based categories:  Pre-join information, the actual joining data itself, information gathered during gestation and the outcomes of that joining.

Pre-joining
Thanks to programs like “Making more from sheep”, we all know the importance of getting your breeding ewes into good shape before joining.  In terms of recording information, most livestock software should be able to keep a pre-join ewe weight and a condition score.  The mating group should be recorded at this time to be carried through to the outcome stage.

Joining data
Joining data consists of the type of joining (AI or natural for example), a record of the sire involved and also records of whether fertility treatments were used on the ewes.  For a natural joining, the ram in and ram out date are important, along with any details of a backup ram used and the dates he was available to the group.

Gestation data
Any pregnancy scanning done should be recorded under this time period.  The scanning date, scanning operator, whether the ewe was wet or dry (or hopefully an embryo count instead) and whether the animals scanned with multiple embryos were fed extra.

Outcomes

The outcomes are simply the number of lambs that resulted (or didn’t result) from the joining process.  It’s an important place to record dead at birth animals that may not have received a tag.
 
This information can be recorded in a spreadsheet to be imported into your software package of choice.  There are templates available for creating this information in a spreadsheet for bulk importation or you can employ a data service provider to help.
 
What to do next

Productive, healthy ewes that produce more live offspring are in our industries best interest and thanks to the ongoing research being done by the industry, excellent tools for improving your lambing outcomes are readily available.  I would encourage everybody to think seriously about lamb survival as an important priority when you contemplate your joining decisions next year.

 

David Rubie
Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show

I have been attending sheep oriented rural shows for over a decade now, great places to catch up with old friends or see new farming equipment.  The Bendigo show has a particular appeal simply because of a story I like to tell of the first time I went there.

Picture me, fresh from Sydney, barely introduced to the sheep industry at all over a decade ago.  I marvelled at the sights and smells of the show ring and the breeder displays.  I had seen a few ram auctions before this but never anything of the size of Bendigo or Hamilton.  It was a fascinating new world and everybody was more than happy to introduce me to it.

Of course, you get hungry at a rural show, especially Bendigo which always seems to be cold and raining at this time of the year.  I had been walking back and forward past a bakery stand that advertised "Yabbie Pies".  Being extremely naive, I figured the name was just a clever brand for what I expected would be a nice, traditional Aussie pie - all soggy pastry, meat, gravy and tomato sauce and the potential for ruining your shirt at any minute.  Yum.

Oh dear the first bite of that pie.  It tasted...unexpected.  Like a kind of muddy mornay rather than the rich gravy of a nice pie.  I stopped after the first bite and contemplated the contents of the pie:  sure enough, it was actually yabbie.  Colleagues with me at the time looked at me with some concern - "is it off?" they asked.  I rather sheepishly had to reply that I didn't expect a yabbie pie to be made with actual yabbies.  After thinking about it for a few seconds they burst into laughter at my expense.  Poor stupid city dweller, welcome to the country!

Of course I've been back many times since and will be heading down there again this year.  I look forward to catching up with in person with everybody who has contacted us.  We are champing at the bit to get this technology in your hands and on your sheep!  Not so keen on another yabbie pie though.

cheers,
Dave.
 

David Rubie
HAX - the hardware accelerator

From my new office here at the SMART Regional Incubator, at the University of New England, Shenzhen seems so far away.  Yet I was there barely two weeks ago, leaving Glenn with a massive pile of work to do finalising the production version of the SmartShepherd tag.

We received the nod to go to the HAX hardware accelerator program very late in February, leaving us with little over a week to make a decision, pack up everything we had been working on and relocate away from family for four months.  In retrospect it was the right decision, at the time it seemed crazy.  We were making OK progress on our prototype - the first devices worked, they collected and transmitted the relationship data, the circuit board design seemed OK, we had some 3D printed cases and seemingly a way to test it before the 2017 lambing season really got underway.

Of course I was kidding myself - there was no way those early prototypes would have survived very long on sheep (trust me, we have plenty of broken housings and dead circuit boards to prove it).  I had only a fleeting knowledge of Shenzhen, and even less knowledge of HAX, the SOSV venture capital fund or pretty much anything to do with manufacturing.

Shenzhen is quite an incredible city - it has almost the population of Australia, it's only 40km from Hong Kong but has it's own distinct style.  It is incredibly prosperous, extraordinarily busy, a home for electronic design and manufacturing and becoming a centre for innovation.  From the towering KK100 skyscraper to the piles of bike share bikes on the streets, there is always something new to see, a new enterprise starting and a busy and willing crowd of people making everything happen.  To relocate to work in Shenzhen was never on my radar, but having done it I wonder why we didn't think of it in the first place.  The electronic markets at Huaqiangbei can be seen on youtube videos, but walking through them is something else entirely.  Everything you could ever need when building electronic hardware is within walking distance of the HAX office, whether it's a specific part or just some inspiration.

Now, four months of hard work later we are setting up a production line, finishing up software and trying our very best to service the first customers in the tail of 2017.  The amazing amount of help we received at HAX was a massive part of that - from business coaching to product design to electrical engineering, everything was made available to us.  The product designers turned our wild ideas into manufacturable plastic cases, we knuckled down and re-wrote our firmware to ensure reliability, a side trip to Qingdao yielded a fantastic data collection device that means our system will be easy to use with existing RFID tags.

The very modest system I had envisaged testing (with collars, with cobbled together casings and unreliable software) is now a professional, beautifully designed system that will be very familiar to our customers and easy to integrate into their existing practices.  We can't wait to present the results of our field test and look forward to making the first deliveries to early customers.

 With genomic parentage testing set to become even more expensive, the SmartShepherd system is set to supercharge livestock breeding and we are excited to be in a position to deliver that revolution.  If you're lambing from late August 2017 onwards, contact us to make a deposit and reserve some tags.  We can't wait to help you breed better.

Dave Rubie, Co-Founder & CEO, SmartShepherd

David Rubie
Welcome to our new website

In this section you will find Co-Founder & CEO of SmartShepherd Dave Rubie along with other respected industry experts sharing their knowledge on how to breed better.  

We will also share product news and stories from farmers and the community. If you would like to share a better breeding story, we would love to hear from you.

Glenn Vassallo, Co-Founder & CTO, SmartShepherd. 

Glenn Vassallo