Growing up on a sheep and beef farm in Lawrence, South Otago, Sarah Thompson always had a passion for animals and agriculture. She pursued this at Lincoln University, studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with honours.

"Ag is not an industry that young people, especially women, are encouraged to get involved in. I’m lucky I grew up in the industry and knew how interesting and innovative agriculture is!"

"Ag is not an industry that young people, especially women, are encouraged to get involved in. I’m lucky I grew up in the industry and knew how interesting and innovative agriculture is!"

Interested in sheep genetics, Sarah’s honours project investigated the genes responsible for dwarfism in sheep. At the completion of her honours, she realised her real passion was for animal health and behaviour. When a friend mentioned that The New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) was looking for someone to join the Production Science team to work on the Sensing Wellbeing project, it was an opportunity that she could not resist.

The study utilises smart sensor technology to monitor sheep behaviour and links this data to indicators of animal welfare. Her current role involves analysing sensor data, interpreting what different behaviours look like in the data, and how this information can be used to predict an animals’ welfare state. NZM aims to link this information to a smartphone, alerting farmers to animals with health issues which require attention.

After 18 months at NZM, Sarah says that she enjoys her role for the variety it brings and thrives on the learning opportunities she is getting through NZM. She is looking forward to seeing how sensor technology advances in the future and the opportunities it could provide the sheep industry.

Sarah intends to return to the family farm in the future, but she wants to experience and learn more about the sheep industry, both in New Zealand and abroad, first.

"Ag is not an industry that young people, especially women, are encouraged to get involved in. I’m lucky I grew up in the industry and knew how interesting and innovative agriculture is!"

You sound extremely driven Sarah and you are right- the ones who grow up in the industry do have an inside peak at how great life in the primary industries can be.