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Cotter Agritech Announce Trial of Facial Recognition in Sheep

Cotter Agritech Announce Trial of Facial Recognition in Sheep

Cotter Agritech has announced a trial into the tech alongside Beef+LambNZ beginning February 2024. This story was covered by Rachel Martin from the Irish Farming Examiner, excerpts from which are below. 


If you thought all sheep looked the same, it turns out you'd be wrong. In fact, in the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the difference are so distinct that two Co. Limerick brothers who are already revolutionising sheep worming are hoping to integrate facial recognition into their software, with trials about to begin across the globe in New Zealand. 

The Cotter Brothers, Jack and Nick Cotter, have already picked up an array of awards for their invention, the Cotter Crate, which significantly reduces the labour involved in drenching lambs.

The pair are hoping to begin trials for the facial recognition software for sheep in New Zealand alongside Beef+LambNZ in February. This will be integrated into their SmartWorm smartphone app that uses individual animal data to predict wormer treatment need in each animal, enabling storekeepers to reduce wormer use on sheep by up to 60% without hampering productivity.

The reason for the trial is that SmartWorm, among other data inputs, requires individual animal average daily weight gain to make predictions on the need for treatment. To do that, farmers must use identification on each animal, so there is a need for ear tags. This is no problem in Europe where eartags for sheep have been legally mandated for years, however in Australia and New Zealand there is no legislative requirement to individually identify sheep, and as a result most sheep are not tagged. 

This is set to change in Australia nationwide from 1 Jan 2025 when new rules are scheduled to come into effect. However there is no sign of any similar change on the horizon in New Zealand. It's a problem for farmers who want to use SmartWorm to reduce their use of wormers there, especially considering resistance has already become a major problem in Australasia.

Nick Cotter, co-founder and CEO of Cotter Agritech said: "At the moment, farmers who want to use our app in New Zealand would have to take on ear tagging as an additional cost just to use our software. When you have 10,000 lambs and a set of tags costs roughly €1 each, that's €10,000. We are trying to reduce the barrier to using SmartWorm by using facial recognition technology out in the paddock and on the weigh crate that we use. This is a far lower-cost technology."

Nick continued: "In fact - it's about a quarter or a fifth the cost of ear tags".

Nick explained early progress suggests there are indeed enough differences on their faces that it can identify each sheep individually. However, work is still underway to test the tech with different breeds. But with such huge possibilities for the tech, it's a challenge well worth undertaking. 

"The potential goes far beyond just individual identification for weighing, we can go much more expansive with this, with cameras out in paddocks and look at automatic detection of things like lameness, flystrike and mothering up of lambs for genetic improvement."

The trial is set to begin in February, will compare accuracy of the facial eID versus traditional ear tags, and will includes farms in both the North and South Island of New Zealand, covering lambs from weaning through to winter grazing. 

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