‘Electric’ sheep measure energy loss in adverse weather

Researchers at Bangor University are using battery-powered model sheep to measure the protection trees and shelter belts offer flocks against adverse weather.

With their thick fleeces, ear tags and woolly tails, the two “electric” sheep on research fields at Bangor University look from a distance like real sheep.

Electric sheep in shade

Battery-powered models were used by researchers to measure how much weather protection tree cover might offer stock

Beneath their fleecy exterior, however, are heating elements and thermostats that simulate the heat produced by a live animal.

How are sheep affected by temperature?

  • If cold a sheep burns more energy to keep warm, so needs more food
  • If too hot, sheep tend to eat less and seek shade to keep cool
  • Both situations affect weight gain and productivity as energy that could towards growth is used instead to regulate metabolism

By measuring the difference between internal and external temperatures, PhD student Pip Jones is able to calculate how much energy a sheep may lose in hot and cold conditions.

She then compares results from places where trees, hedgerows and shelter belts offer protection with results from areas without any sort of shelter.

See also: 9 reasons to plant trees on your land

“Sheep use a substantial amount of energy just staying warm; and lose a lot of heat when it’s cool, especially when there’s a wind chill,” says Ms Jones.

“On a hot day when the weather was about 30C at the study site, we put a model sheep in direct sun, and the fleece recorded a temperature of 60C, which is incredibly hot.

“This is where the shelter of trees could really contribute, creating shade in the summer and reducing the effects of wind-chill in winter.

“Tree-shelter from chilling wind could save energy and provide a real efficiency boost in the conversion of energy eaten to actual growth and health in our youngstock,” she adds.

Through this research, which is scheduled to conclude in 2018, Ms Jones hopes to produce a practical tool for farmers to help them pinpoint the best place to plant for effective shelter and shade.