The Modern Shepherd: How to Use the Internet in Sheep Rearing
The internet has infiltrated every single area of modern-day life and that includes rural lifestyles such as sheep farming. Whereas many people’s impression of farm life is one of isolation, tradition and ancient technology, for farmers the reality is very different. In order to make the farming life a profitable one, farmers have always had to implement the very latest in appropriate technology. So, the idea of rural sheep rearing and the world wide web comfortably coexisting is not actually that strange.
Just as other human endeavours such as the entertainment industry, the education sector and long distance communication have benefitted from going online, so too has agriculture and animal husbandry. Whereas you might use WhatsApp to video call your friend halfway across the world or pop on to PokerStarscasino to play a few hands of blackjack, farmers use the internet and online technology to look after their flocks. We’ve put together here some of the most practical and ingenious ways in which the internet can be used by modern shepherds.
Sheep going missing is every farmer’s worst nightmare. The productivity of the herd relies on minimal loss and each sheep that makes a break for it means a direct dip in profit, not to mention the lost time spent looking for them. Satellite tracking could solve this problem in one fell swoop. Through the use of GPS collars fitted to each individual sheep, farmers with far-roaming flocks can keep track of where they are from a smartphone or tablet. Rather than spending hours searching every corner of their pastures, they can pinpoint exactly where a sheep is if it has strayed too far and needs returning to the fold. This approach could also help to open up new grazing opportunities and support conservation initiatives by keeping track of where the sheep have spent the most time feeding.
Security and Theft Prevention
Sometimes, sheep don’t just go lost but are purposefully taken. Sheep rustling is still an evil experienced by some farming communities and one which it isn’t always easy to rectify. By fitting sheep with devices that track things like speed and distance travelled, farmers can be alerted to potential rustling activity much more quickly. This gives them earlier opportunity to act and hopefully recover their stolen flock members.
Wearable Tech for Data Collection
Moving one step further forward with this wearable tech, there is also the opportunity for farmers to monitor additional potentially impactful stats such as lameness and other ailments. A lame sheep cannot walk properly and therefore cannot thrive. Lameness, usually caused by footrot, can impact everything, including their reproductive capacity. Lame sheep can quickly start to lose weight and become weak, making them far less profitable for everybody involved in the chain of industry, not least the farmer. A special ear tag fitted with an accelerometer and gyroscope (similar to those found in smartphones) could let farmers know when a sheep is in distress, giving them the chance to deal with the issue earlier and hopefully prevent too much damage to their livestock.
Sheep as Wi-Fi Hotspots
On the flipside, sheep could be used as an integral part of internet technology themselves, rather than using the web to improve their health and quality of life. The idea of fixing sensors to flocks of sheep in order to boost Wi-Fi signal in rural areas was first explored several years ago. The idea is to bring reliable internet connectivity to communities who would not have that option otherwise. Each sheep acts as a link in the chain, relaying messages between the rural location and the nearest internet hotspot. Piggybacking off this initiative, the sensors already fixed to whole flocks of sheep could also be utilised by scientists for local data collecting without having to get out in the field (pun intended). It would be possible to keep an eye on regional climate conditions or changes in soil quality simply by accessing the sheep’s sensors.
Communication & Connection
Despite our earlier assurances, the farming life can be a lonely one on occasion. For farmers, one of the best aspects of internet connectivity is being able to chat with distant friends and loved ones, as well as contact fellow farming professionals for advice and reassurance. Whereas once upon a time socialisation between farms required shared in-person activities and the same social circle, nowadays rural farmers can connect with other professionals around the world via the magic of the internet. The Farming Community Network, The Farming Forum and Agriculture.com are just a few examples of established farming groups online, but you only need look on a platform like YouTube or Instagram to see that farmers are a friendly bunch with plenty to say and always willing to help out a fellow shepherd in need.