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RFID-Un dispositif électronique pour gérer la reproduction dans les élevages de petits ruminants. © Inra

A new system to detect oestrus in sheep

This new oestrus detection system is based on using a ram equipped with an RFID chip reader that will indicate to the breeder those ewes which are displaying behaviours typical of oestrus. The aim of the device is to enable breeders to control the reproduction of their herds without using hormone treatments.

Updated on 06/12/2018
Published on 04/16/2018

The control of reproduction is one of the key factors in herd productivity. In conventional sheep farming, oestrus is triggered by a hormone treatment in order to avoid the need to detect periods of fertility and thus group lambing. Indeed, the symptoms of seasonal oestrus are very discrete. The only way to detect oestrus at present is to walk a ram on a tether among the ewes.

In order to be freed from the need to use hormone treatments, breeders require new tools for both conventional and organic farming (in the latter case, the use of hormones is already banned; cf. EC regulation n°834/2007). This new electronic device to detect oestrus in ewes combines electronic sensors and computerised analysis of the animals’ behaviour, and thus offers a new solution that forms part of a precision agriculture approach.

Operating principles

Scientists in the Joint Research Unit for Mediterranean and Tropical Livestock Systems (Selmet, Montpellier) have developed an electronic system which detects the mating of ewes by rams. The acceptance of mating by ewes is the only symptom of oestrus.  

The system thus developed comprises i) for the ram, a harness carrying an RFID chip reader, batteries and an emitting and transmitting aerial, and ii) RFID chips for the ewes. Placed under the caudal fold at the level of the ewe’s tail, the chips are fixed using mini-tags that have been designed specifically to enable the reliable identification of the ewe in oestrus. These chips do not hamper sheering of the animals. This system was designed in collaboration with a private company, Wallace (Cardet, France).

During mating, the reader carried by the male is activated and records the chip number of the ewe as well as the date and time. The data thus collected are stored and transmitted remotely.

Excellent results recorded during pilot studies

Several prototypes were developed during recent years, and numerous recordings of the behaviours of rams and ewes were made, both on farms and in an experimental unit. The electronic detection system enabled the detection of 100% of ewes in oestrus. Artificial insemination without hormone treatment was carried out, with excellent results in terms of fertility (75%-88%).
This system is also able to evaluate ram libido in a precise manner and more rapidly than using the reference method based on observation.

Improvements ongoing to enable use on livestock farms

Thanks for funds provided by INRA ("pre-maturation" funding), the research team and industrial partner are now working to optimise the design of the RFID chip fixed on females so as to ensure their long-term identification (this chip repeats the data held in the obligatory electronic ear tags on all ewes) and to make these mini-tags recyclable (as they are rewritable) after the animals are culled. These developments are designed to reduce the cost of the equipment so that it will be accessible to breeders with herds containing several hundred ewes.

Adaptations are also being made to the software suite to obtain a practical alert system that is compatible with several types of mobile terminal (phones, tablets), displaying original functionalities (ideal time for insemination, ram libido score, ewe gestation diagnosis, planning of lambing, etc.).

The system should be on the market from 2019.

Contact(s)
Scientific contact(s):

  • François BOCQUIER CIRAD-INRA-Montpellier SupAgro Joint Research Unit for Mediterranean and Tropical Livestock Systems (UMR SELMET), 2 place Viala, 34060 MONTPELLIER CEDEX 2
  • Nathalie DEBUS CIRAD-INRA-Montpellier SupAgro Joint Research Unit for Mediterranean and Tropical Livestock Systems (UMR SELMET), 2 place Viala, 34060 MONTPELLIER CEDEX 2
Contact Wallace:
Didier SANTO
Associated Division(s):
Animal Physiology and Livestock Systems
Associated Centre(s):
Occitanie-Montpellier

Pour en savoir plus

Brevet

  • WO/ 2005/065574 : Method and device for automatically detecting mating of animals

Publications

  • Alhamada, M., Debus, N., Lurette, A., Bocquier, F. (2016). Validation of automated electronic oestrus detection in sheep as an alternative to visual observation. Small Ruminant Research (Online), 97-104.
  • Alhamada, M., Debus, N., Lurette, A., Bocquier, F. (2017). Automatic oestrus detection system enables monitoring of sexual behaviour in sheep. Small Ruminant Research, 149, 105-111.
  • Alhamada M., Debus N., Gonzales-Garcia E., Bocquier F., 2017. Sheep sexual behaviour is driven by body condition and the related nutritional and metabolic status. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 191 : 24–30.
  • Alhamada M., Debus N., Bocquier F., (2017). Factors affecting ram libido and outlook for its automated evaluation. Animal, 11: 2036-2044.

Wallace