24 May 1996

Electronic reader gives complete picture

Accurate and labour-saving record keeping is the reward for electronic tagging on one Glos unit. Rebecca Austin reports

LAST week it took Douglas Scott and three helpers two hours to weigh 110 calves.

Nothing special in that you might think, and Mr Scott who runs 116 pedigree South Devons on 144ha (357 acres) at Wells Folly, Moreton-in-Marsh, Glos, agrees.

The difference is these calves were identified and weighed electronically.

"With cattle roaring in the background it can be difficult to write down a number correctly and the tag number may not even have been read out accurately," says Mr Scott.

Using an electronic tag – in his case an Allflex plastic button tag the size of an old 10p piece – removes that error. Cattle walk into a crush which has an aerial fixed on the side. This reads the beasts individual electronic number as it passes. This is then correlated with its UK identification number. Electronic weighing pads under the crush then weigh the beast. This data is fed automatically into the weigher head. If there is a previous weight in the system, daily liveweight gain over that period will be displayed automatically .

Computer connection

Once the job has been done the weigher head is taken into the farm office and connected to the farm computer. It takes seconds to download the collected data onto the computer program and print it either by age, number, sex, dam or sire.

In Mr Scotts case, and that of other Signet Beefbreeder clients, all relevant data can then be copied onto a hard disc and herd estimated breeding values evaluated.

It is also possible for Mr Scott to send a print-out of breed notifications to the South Devon Breed Society for it is unique in that UK identification numbers act as the herd book number.

"This means the number used by MAFF, the herd book or MLC is the same. This reduces confusion and, again, error," says Mr Scott. The electronic information also provides data for Mr Scotts computer breeding program Herd Magic from Farmplan.

It cost Mr Scott £6000 to set up his electronic identification system two years ago. Included in that bill are two crushes, the Allflex FX31 weighing system, and a years supply of tags.

"I dont expect to regain that cost. My philosophy is that it is difficult to see a return on some investments," says Mr Scott. "Its like showing, really, which is also difficult to justify financially. But if we had just stayed at home and made no attempt to improve the Grove herd we certainly wouldnt be where we are now. Breeding using EBVs as a tool has helped us bring the herds performance into the breed top 10%. But those figures need to breed true in future generations. To do that they must be accurate so I use electronic identification to improve that area."

Stockland Computer Systems and Allflex now have joint facilities at Banbury market, Oxon, and the abattoir Canvins International. These allow electronically tagged animals to be traced from birth to slaughter. All records, such as age, sex, breed, UK identification number and CID status are available wherever the animal is at the touch of a button. The set-up enbables markets and abattoirs to access MAFF records where necessary, at the same time reducing the risk of human error when recording stock details. Here a beef carcass is passed over an aerial set-up in the abattoir production line which reads the ear-tag electronically.