Quantifying the frequency and volume of urine deposition by grazing sheep using tri-axial accelerometers

K. A. Marsden, L. Lush, J. A. Holmberg, I. M. Harris, M. J. Whelan, S. Webb, A. J. King, R. P. Wilson, D. L. Jones, A. F. Charteris, L. M. Cardenas, D. R. Chadwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urine patches deposited in pasture by grazing animals are sites of reactive nitrogen (N) loss to the environment due to high concentrations of N exceeding pasture uptake requirements. In order to upscale N losses from the urine patch, several urination parameters are required, including where, when and how often urination events occur as well as the volume and chemical composition. There are limited data available in this respect, especially for sheep. Here, we seek to address this knowledge gap by using non-invasive sensor-based technology (accelerometers) on ewes grazing in situ, using a Boolean algorithm to detect urination events in the accelerometer signal. We conducted an initial study with penned Welsh Mountain ewes (n = 5), with accelerometers attached to the hind, to derive urine flow rate and to determine whether urine volume could be estimated from ewe squat time. Then accelerometers attached to the hind of Welsh Mountain ewes (n = 30 at each site) were used to investigate the frequency of sheep urination events (n = 35 946) whilst grazing two extensively managed upland pastures (semi-improved and unimproved) across two seasons (spring and autumn) at each site (35–40 days each). Sheep urinated at a frequency of 10.2 ± 0.2 and 8.1 ± 0.3 times per day in the spring and autumn, respectively, while grazing the semi-improved pasture. Urination frequency was greater (19.0 ± 0.4 and 15.3 ± 0.3 times per day in the spring and autumn, respectively) in the unimproved pasture. Ewe squat duration could be reliably used to predict the volume of urine deposited per event and was thus used to estimate mean daily urine production volumes. Sheep urinated at a rate of 16.6 mL/s and, across the entire dataset, sheep squatted for an average of 9.62 ± 0.03 s per squatting event, producing an estimated average individual urine event volume of 159 ± 1 mL (n = 35 946 events), ranging between 17 and 745 mL (for squat durations of 1 to 45 s). The estimated mean daily urine volume was 2.15 ± 0.04 L (n = 2 669 days) across the entire dataset. The data will be useful for modelling studies estimating N losses (e.g. ammonia (NH3) volatilisation, nitrous oxide (N2O) emission via nitrification and denitrification and nitrate (NO3) leaching) from urine patches.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100234
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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