The Sm@RT project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 research programme, aims to share knowledge and improve the uptake of new digital technologies in small ruminant farming systems in Europe and beyond, and recently held its first online international workshop.
Small ruminant (sheep and goat) farming is important to the rural economy of many countries in the EU and worldwide, especially in areas that are unsuitable for other farming systems. The Small Ruminant population (sheep and goats), in the EU is approximately 98 million animals, of which 87% were sheep. There are more sheep in Europe than the combined total of Australia and New Zealand. The development and uptake of innovative digital technologies, or Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) tools to improve farm efficiency in small ruminant systems is a lot lower than other livestock sectors e.g. dairy and pig sectors. The Sm@RT (Small Ruminant Technologies) project brings together a network of researchers from Ireland, France, Norway, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, UK and Israel, who aim to improve awareness of, and uptake by stakeholders involved in small ruminant production of PLF tools.
The initial step in the project was to identify and understand stakeholders’ main challenges and needs for PLF tools and digital technologies. The needs and challenges were identified in a survey which was undertaken in each of the Sm@rt countries. Recently national workshops were held in each of the Sm@rt partner countries to identify farmers’ needs in terms of tools and methods which could facilitate their farm working conditions.
When all the national workshops were completed, an international workshop was held involving 104 delegates from the 8 countries. The international workshop took place virtually, with a multi-lingual plenary session and a series of 12 breakout sessions each for an array of languages and production types. The aims of this workshop were for participants to understand the needs of other farmers compared to their own country’s needs and to get the opportunity to share their own practical knowledge in a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange exercise to help stakeholders in other countries.
Each country and production system had to propose solutions to the farmers’ needs of 2 other countries, based on the following 5 themes: 1) feeding/grazing, 2) health/welfare, 3) reproduction, 4) flock/herd management and 5) fattening and milking.
Dr Tim Keady, National Facilitator for Sm@RT based at Teagasc Athenry said, “this bottom-up approach was well received by participants, and it was encouraging to see many innovative and PLF solutions being proposed by farmers for farmers. The next step in the project will be to formalise the solutions to the identified needs and propose guidelines and farmers’ testimonies on how to implement them on farms”.
For Ireland, some of the main identified needs and solutions revolved around the issues of fencing, weighing lambs, selecting/drafting ewes for rams, selecting replacements, recording birth data/ewe performance, ration formulation and using complicated technology.
Dr Brid McClearn from Teagasc Athenry said, “this project uses a variety of methods to facilitate productive knowledge exchange and practical information from the ‘digifarms’ and commercial farmers involved in the project will be helpful to farmers throughout Ireland and Europe.”