A CARLISLE-based company Nighthawk Software are part of a UK research consortium awarded funding to develop new tools to encourage the adoption of Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) technologies in sheep flocks.

The consortium brings together leading academic institutes, industrial partners and sheep health experts.

The project is led by the Moredun Research Institute and includes Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), Synergy Farm Health, 5 Agri, Nighthawk Software, LSSC Ltd, Datamars Livestock and Elanco Animal Health.

Gavin Coates, Director of Nighthawk Software Ltd said: "The project is catchily called “Smart sheep: precision livestock farming and sustainable sheep production”.

"The long and short of it is that Moredon Research from Edinburgh have devised a formula called the “Happy Factor”, which in trials has proven effective at identifying sheep that are likely suffering from worms. By identifying these sheep, farmers can then take a more targeted approach of treating sheep – instead selectively treating animals at high risk, vs the current approach of treating all animals. This has the benefit of greatly reducing the time and cost to the farmer, while also having environmental impact of reducing antibiotic resistance of worms."

Nighthawk Software received funding from Innovate UK to proceed to the next stage of trials - to demonstrate that the approach is feasible on commercial farms, and demonstrate that it does indeed provide a financial saving to the farmers.

The project started in September, and trials on the farms are due to begin in June.

"My company, Nighthawk Software has been working with 5Agri for around two years now to develop a software platform for farmers – Agri Ignite (www.agri-ignite.co.uk).," said Gavin.

He added: "This is a complete management tool for farmers and consultants, providing everything from financial management and benchmarking with similar farms, through to enterprise and cattle management. We were chosen as the software provider for the project, to demonstrate that the “happy factor” could be incorporated in to an existing software platform and provide feedback and reporting to the farmers on the benefits of the more targeted approach. It was then hoped that the additional functionality would be a driving force to help boost sales of the Agri Ignite platform."

Dr Claire Morgan-Davies, Systems Researcher at SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Centre, said: "Until fairly recently, technological innovation have been seen as only relevant to low ground arable and dairy farming systems. But the use of precision livestock farming, as we call it, is just as relevant in upland areas, if not more so. Such innovations can help increase the economic viability of hill farming and crofting by ensuring that individual animals are managed according to their individual health and welfare needs."