The application of innovative technologies in station testing and in feeding experiments with sheep

Detailed information concerning the amount of feed intake and individual and group behaviour of animals is necessary for breeding of animals (station testing, feeding experiments, performance testing). The results of experiments should be acquired from animals maintained in conditions similar to those used in practice while meeting welfare requirements. Manual collection of data, especially where individual animals are observed, always involves high personnel costs and is a subjective source of error. Therefore, it was decided to work out the principles and modernize the building used for station (progeny) testing of rams to make it suitable for conducting research on lambs and sheep. It is located on the sheep farm Kociugi which belongs to the Experimental Station of the National Research Institute of Animal Production in Pawłowice. The building uses innovative solutions: it is furnished with easily dismountable, modular group pens, individual digestibility cages, mobile electronic scales equipped with a reader and data logger, automatic feed hoppers adapted for lambs, automatic drinkers and computer-controlled call feeding stations.

The application of computer-controlled, fully automated call feeding stations is particularly important. They were developed at the Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Farm Buildings and Environmental Technology of the Bavarian State Research Centre for Agriculture in Freising. This equipment is complete with a modern mobile electronic scales integrated with a number reader and data logger. The feeding station (adapted for sheep) enables the duration and amount of feed intake to be recorded even in the group system and controlled at will. The feeding station can be connected to a container for pelleted concentrates or roughages. It has its own control processor which, once set for user-specified parameters, can control feeding for a specific time and collect information without being connected to a computer. A computer is necessary to set the parameters of the feeding system and for long-term collection of data. To this end, a special Windows-based program ("TIM") has been developed.

Thanks to such solutions, the building can serve different functions:

  • Ram Testing Station (based on progeny)
  • Feeding experiments with lambs and sheep maintained on litter in:
    • group pens equipped with automatic feeders – monitoring of group concentrate intake
    • group pens equipped with call automatic feeders – monitoring of individual and group intake of concentrates or roughages
  • Experiments with lambs and sheep kept in individual digestibility cages