Developing a Simulated Online Model That Integrates GNSS, Accelerometer and Weather Data to Detect Parturition Events in Grazing Sheep: A Machine Learning Approach

Animals (Basel). 2021 Jan 25;11(2):303. doi: 10.3390/ani11020303.


In the current study, a simulated online parturition detection model is developed and reported. Using a machine learning (ML)-based approach, the model incorporates data from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) tracking collars, accelerometer ear tags and local weather data, with the aim of detecting parturition events in pasture-based sheep. The specific objectives were two-fold: (i) determine which sensor systems and features provide the most useful information for lambing detection; (ii) evaluate how these data might be integrated using ML classification to alert to a parturition event as it occurs. Two independent field trials were conducted during the 2017 and 2018 lambing seasons in New Zealand, with the data from each used for ML training and independent validation, respectively. Based on objective (i), four features were identified as exerting the greatest importance for lambing detection: mean distance to peers (MDP), MDP compared to the flock mean (MDP.Mean), closest peer (CP) and posture change (PC). Using these four features, the final ML was able to detect 27% and 55% of lambing events within ±3 h of birth with no prior false positives. If the model sensitivity was manipulated such that earlier false positives were permissible, this detection increased to 91% and 82% depending on the requirement for a single alert, or two consecutive alerts occurring. To identify the potential causes of model failure, the data of three animals were investigated further. Lambing detection appeared to rely on increased social isolation behaviour in addition to increased PC behaviour. The results of the study support the use of integrated sensor data for ML-based detection of parturition events in grazing sheep. This is the first known application of ML classification for the detection of lambing in pasture-based sheep. Application of this knowledge could have significant impacts on the ability to remotely monitor animals in commercial situations, with a logical extension of the information for remote monitoring of animal welfare.

Keywords: machine learning; on-animal sensors; parturition; sheep.