The EID (electronic identification) sheep sorter was my AS lever Design and technology project. With an open brief, and being the person I am, I wanted to be as ambitious as possible, and living on a hill farm in wales, where looking after sheep was something I had been doing as soon as I could walk. I liked the idea of making farmers jobs easier. Electronic tags were something that had recently become a legal requirement in 2010 and I liked the idea of enhancing the usages of these, as usually the farmers do not use the technology, only the slaughterhouses.
I got A idea from new Zealand, where sheep farming is done on a much lager scale. a automatic weighed, tag recorder and sorter was being used. But at a cost of £15,000, it was an investment only viable to only the biggest farms. I wanted to design and make a much more cost efficient sorter, that would do most of the functions. And That’s where I started, a highly ambitious brief, and a low cost, below £2,000 if I could. This cost would make it viable to even smaller farms, by reducing the labour form 3-4 for the specific jobs, to one. The idea is, that the system will open a door, allow the sheep into a contained space, it would then be weighed, ant the Digital tag read, then be sorted into 3 ways on a variant that had been put into the software before hand, be it weight, sex, age, etc. this means only one person is required too feed the sheep into the machine.
Throughout the year I soldiered on, realising how high my brief was set. i started by welding the steel frame, and adding plywood sides etc. making sure that it was safe for the animal and that they would not be ‘freaked’ by the implement, this, to me was the easy part. After that, I needed a way of opening and shutting the doors automatically. I chose to use electrically powdered actuators. Connecting them all to the doors and testing by using a switchboard that I had made. It was now ready for the software; I teamed up with border software for this, a software company who specialise in sheep data analyses. They were keen to help me, and had already been looking into developing a auto drafting unit. They helped me to understand what I needed to make the actuators controllable by a USB cable, that was the next step, this would allow the Hardware to be controlled by the software. A control box was needed with a circuit board containing relay switches, which would allow the USB to power the switch, so now I had 4 doors, that I could open and close by a button on a computer screen, this I loved.
The tag reader is simply a large coil of wire that will pick up the electric signal, and deliver to the software; this I made myself using PVC piping and 1 core wire.
I then helped border software to connect the software to the electronic software. This was very interesting, but way over my head. I mainly sat and starred with astonishment. However, the sorter was finally set in and ready to use.
i was very happy with this project, it was a real eye opener to what I was capable of doing with the right help from the right people, it still amazes me to watch the sorter sort lambs by weight, or age, and then I can look at the software and it had recorded how much a specific lamb weighed.
Here is a newspaper link to a report of my auto drafter, it emphasises the importance of digital recording with sheep.