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Technical note: Validation of an automatic recording system to assess behavioural activity level in sheep (Ovis aries)

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McLennan, KM 
Skillings, EA 
Rebelo, CJB 
Corke, MJ 
Pires Moreira, MA 


The welfare of an individual can be assessed by monitoring behavioural changes, such as inactivity, that may indicate injury or disease. In this study we validated the Actiwatch Mini® activity monitor (AM) for automatic recording of behavioural activity levels of nine Texel ewes. The AM devices were attached to collars placed around the necks of the ewes. AM recordings were taken at 25 second intervals for 21 consecutive days and in addition, direct behavioural observations made on days 9–13. AM recordings were compared with direct behavioural observations to investigate whether different levels of behaviour activity could be distinguished by the AM. Six different behaviours were matched to the activity scores recorded by the AM which were low activity (lying ruminating, lying), medium activity (standing, standing ruminating, and grazing) and high activity behaviours (walking). There were differences in the activity scores for all three scores. However, higher levels of accuracy in distinguishing between activity levels were achieved when combining high and medium activity level behaviours. This method of capturing data provides a practical tool in studies assessing the impact of disease or injury. For example, assessing the effects of lameness on the activity level of sheep at pasture, without the presence of an observer influencing behaviour.



Activity monitor, Behaviour, Sheep, Validation, Welfare

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Small Ruminant Research

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The authors thank the staff at the farm, at which data were collected, for supporting the study and for taking good care of the animals. This study was part of a project funded by the EU VII Framework programme Animal Welfare Indicators (Grant no. FP7-KBBE-2010-4) who had no involvement in the study design, data collection, data analysis or writing of the report. The Actiwatches’ were provided to AJM through funding from CHDI Foundation, Inc.