World-first sheep facial recognition technology

A Dunedin company is set to prototype its world-first sheep facial recognition technology

The world’s first sheep facial recognition software, which could eliminate the need for costly electronic identification or ear tagging, will be prototyped this year, after the company behind it received funding from New Zealand’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation.


Sheep NN is a project created by Dunedin-based artificial intelligence and machine learning company Iris Data Science. It has received a $40,000 grant from Callaghan Innovation towards the $100,000 project that will take the model to prototype by the end of the year.

"The goal is to develop a cost-effective and revolutionary sheep re-identification system for farmers using images captured by a bespoke camera rig and processes," says Iris Data Science co-founder Greg Peyroux.

"Sheep face images are collected and fed into a machine-learning model, which gradually learns to identify sheep by finding recognisable features."

The project was launched at this year’s MobileTECH event in Rotorua – an annual event showcasing digital technologies for the agricultural, horticultural and forestry sectors – and TEXpo 2019, Techweek NZ’s technology showcase.

Mr Peyroux says the company has already collected thousands of images and hours of high-resolution video footage from farms to create a deep learning identification pipeline that will be further developed in the coming months.

"As more farmers move towards management technologies such as digital scales and automatic drafting gates, a reliable low-cost method of identification is essential and we believe we have found a solution with this new cost-effective technology."

"Sheep identification from images is a complex issue that has not yet been fully researched and is unlikely to be addressed overseas in the near future, but has major commercial implications for New Zealand’s agricultural industry."

Future applications for the technology include tracking animal locations to prevent rustling, monitoring animal behaviour, estimating weight, diseases, welfare, or other characteristics, or estimating parentage without the need to observe lambing or do DNA parentage testing.

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