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Repeatability and frequency of in-paddock sheep walk-over weights: implications for individual animal management

Brown, D. J., Savage, D. B., Hinch, G. N.
Animal production science 2014 v.54 no.2 pp. 207-213
animal husbandry, body weight, confidence interval, decision making, digestive system, flocks, nutritional status, radio frequency identification, sheep
Sheep liveweight is an indicator of nutritional status, and its measure may be used as an aid to nutritional management. When walk-over weighing (WOW), a remote weighing concept for grazing sheep, is combined with radio frequency identification (RFID), resulting ‘RFID-linked WOW’ data may enable the liveweight of individual sheep to be tracked over time. We investigated whether RFID-linked WOW data is sufficiently repeatable and frequent to generate individual liveweight estimates with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) of <2 kg (a sufficient level of error to account for fluctuating gut fill) for a flock within timeframes suitable for management (1-day and 5-day timeframes). Four flocks of sheep were used to generate RFID-linked WOW datasets. RFID-linked WOW data were organised into three groups: raw (unfiltered), coarse filtered (remove all sheep-weights outside the flock’s liveweight range), and fine filtered (remove all sheep-weights outside a 25% range of a recent flock average reference liveweight). The repeatability of raw (unfiltered) RFID-linked WOW data was low (0.20), while a coarse (0.46) and fine (0.76) data filter improved repeatability. The 95% CI of raw RFID-linked WOW data was 27 kg, and was decreased by a coarse (11 kg) and fine (6 kg) data filter. Increasing the number of raw, coarse and fine-filtered data points to 190, 30 and 12 sheep-weights, respectively, decreased the 95% CI to <2 kg. The mean cumulative percentage of sheep achieving >11 fine-filtered RFID-linked WOW sheep-weights within a 1-day and 5-day timeframe was 0 and 10%, respectively. The null hypothesis was accepted: RFID-linked WOW data had low repeatability and was unable to generate liveweight estimates with a 95% CI of less than 2 kg within a suitable timeframe. Therefore, at this stage, RFID-linked WOW is not recommended for on-farm decision making of individual sheep.