As UK farmers continue to be blighted by daily cases of sheep worrying, Ewetrack, a device to detect unusual behaviour within your flock, aims to put an end to the devastating effect it can have. Emily Ashworth reports.
What may seem like an innocent walk through the British countryside to most, could potentially result in a farmer’s worst nightmare.
Dog attacks on sheep and sheep rustling are becoming increasingly common in the UK and, of late, have seen many sheep farmers across the country lose their sheep and along with it, their livelihood.
Over the last four years, Farmers Guardian have sent out more than 60,000 Take the Lead signs, as part of a campaign to encourage walkers to put their dogs on a lead.
And yet the figures are still troubling.
Earlier in the year, a survey by NFU Mutual revealed that of the 81 per cent of people walking their pets in the countryside, 64 per cent admitted to letting their dog off a lead, while almost 10 per cent refused to put it back on, even when prompted by a sign.
But three former Royal Agricultural University students believe by harnessing cutting edge technology they can help in the battle against sheep worrying and assist farmers against the scourge of rural crime.
Ewetrack is a business set up by young farmers Chris Puttick, William Groom and Sam Hewett. All hail from a farming background and, after studying together at the RAU, they wish to make their mark through what they believe is a unique piece of agri-technology.
The device is an ear tag to attached the whole flock, while one sheep is used as a signaller.
That particular sheep will wear a collar and it is essentially a way for flocks up and down the country to work together to highlight unusual on-farm activity directly to the farmer.
Testing is currently being carried out at the Royal Veterinary College, London and the team have come a long way since the conception of the idea in 2017.
“We’re using Bluetooth meshing which is new to the UK,” says Chris, 25.
“At present, we are on version number four of the device and we have lots of data coming in, around 10 gigabytes a day.
“But we are wireless now, which is great.”
What drives the team on is the sheer scale of problem the industry faces when it comes to livestock worrying and thefts and the emotional and financial that can have on individuals.
They are therefore adamant they wanted to speak to a lot of farmers during the development to ensure Ewetrack met the needs of the community it was being aimed at. All too often technology works well at the ideas stage but struggles to full adaptable to in-field scenarios.
“We have emails coming in every week and it’s really sad,” says Chris.
“We have farmers saying, ‘please help us, we lost 200 lambs yesterday.’
“It’s quite distressing but it spurs me on and I know we’ll get it right soon.”
But sheep worrying issues are on the increase and, according to the NSA’s sheep worrying survey results in 2017, 72 per cent of respondents felt dog owners assumed their pet would not attack livestock or cause any damage if they did. A further 62 per cent felt dog owners had a lack of regard or concern over the issue and 60 per cent felt these attacks happened because dog owners did not keep their dogs on a lead.
And Chris believes that realistically, there are only two options for farmers.
“If you think about it, the challenge we have is to change the public’s perception of what they should be doing on a dog walk and most just want to let their dogs off,” he says.
“The way forward in my opinion is prosecution and technology.
“Our device should alert the farmer within 20 seconds which means they can get to where they need to be and take photographic evidence or videos.”
Yet there have been some surprising findings throughout the Ewetrack journey. Chris found the problem of sheep rustling to be one of great concern.
He says: “The idea of rustling really baffled me.
“Our initial aim was to help with dog attacks but when we met with the North Yorkshire Police, they said no, this device will solve sheep rustling.
“I could show you emails from farmers who have lost 600 sheep overnight. They just vanish.
“How do you get all those lambs through the abattoir and on to the black market without anybody able to do anything?”
The team believe this could be revolutionary for the sheep sector, but they have a further £100,000 to raise before the device can be finished.
They have had major support from organisations like the Prince’s Countryside Fund but know that to really push forward, they need the backing of the industry.
“As a young farmer who has diverted away from the family farm and is running an agritech start-up, I would say the biggest problem is the uptake and adoption of new technologies,” says William.
“We really need to have the industry behind us if we are to solve some of these global issues for the livestock industry and create a sustainable structure for uncertain times ahead.”