21 May 1999

Electronic tags a boon with pigs

OUTDOOR pig units using electronic tags and hand-held readers can ease record keeping and make better use of records to help improve management.

Signet pig consultant Dan Morgan says that electronic tags are particularly useful on outdoor units where mud can cover ear tags or they tend to become worn or lost. It also reduces the scope for misreading notes on paper when back in the office.

An electronic reader, which identifies the pig when it is held near it, allows data to be entered in the field. It also gives access to sow records outside when required, improving decision making.

"When you are out on the pig unit and see a sow that has returned, you have a complete sow history so you can see whether she has returned before. Then check her body condition and health and use records to decide whether to cull or serve her."

Keep sow records

ANALYSING sow records according to parity is often done on pig units, but greater use could be made of the information to make management decisions.

Signets Dan Morgan says that checking average sow performance in each parity often shows poorer results in eighth or ninth litters. When these litters are well below the herd average its sensible to sell sows after their seventh litter.

"Producers always think an individual sow will buck the trend; because she is looking good you keep her, sometimes they do well, but often not," he says.

When gilt or second litter numbers are low it indicates a management problem. This is often related to feeding, he adds.

Passports – safe &

sound

By Peter Grimshaw

HAS it crossed your mind how much of your wealth is tied up in your collection of cattle passports? Its not just the £50 each would cost to replace. Just think of all the hassle involved in replacing that lot – as well as headage payments perhaps being at risk.

But insurance companies have thought about it. The NFU Mutual has recently included cover for cattle passports under the money section of its farm business policy to include up to £250,000 of claims in any one year.

Dumfriesshire farmer Ben Graham also gave it some thought. Last autumn he attended an SAC seminar on the BCMS. At the end of the session covering the schemes complexities, there was one question every one of the 20 or so farmers present wanted to ask: "What can I keep the passports in?"

Even SAC couldnt come up with a better answer than that resorted to by many farmers. But a shoe box doesnt match many insurers standards, although the NFU Mutual so far imposes no constraints.

Mr Graham made some enquiries, and discovered that a normal steel filing cabinet, although not fireproof, was the minimum acceptable to many underwriters. "They would prefer a fireproof safe, but realistically recognised that if farmers were expected to spend four figures on a safe, theyd almost certainly not bother to insure."

As a result, he has designed a special suspension file to fit a standard filing drawer that will keep up to 320 passports and costs £40. His system uniquely stores them end-upwards, allowing tag numbers to be read off without removal from the file.

"Its possible to find an individual card from among 1000 in less than five minutes," claims Mr Graham, whose company, StockBureau, offers single file boxes, drawer kits and StockBoxes for use outside the office.

His farm has a milking herd and a suckler herd, and he has two files for each herd, for male and female animals. A fifth file is used for heifers once mated, so the passport can be quickly turned up when they calve.

Farm secretary Jean Thompson reckons she is responsible for about 1500 cattle passports on farms mainly in Cumbria. "I hunted high and low to find a suitable method of storing passports. I scoured B&Q, stationers and even looked for suitable sized toolboxes.

"Until the passport system was introduced, my records consisted of a lever-arch file with a plastic folder for each animal, and these included the CIDs. The trouble was, passports are a different size and shape to cattle record cards and dont fit the wallets."

By chance she was shown the system sold by StockBureau, and this is the one she prefers to use on her clients farms. As she points out, the drawer kit costs less than the penalty on a single lost passport. She still uses the record cards, which allow for all the necessary data, including breeding details and premium claims, but keeps these in the original system.

Ms Thompson makes up records monthly, usually based on the calving book, which notes the dams freeze brand number and which can be cross-referenced to the ear number record kept in the office. This allows her to comply with the 40 day passport notification time period.

Its worth remembering that passports are most at risk when they are out of the file – for example, when cattle are on their way to market. Since they are computer read, its all-too easy to wreck them if you have them out on the farm, simply by getting them wet. Although purpose-designed office storage may be used inside, the risk beyond the office door remains high.

"Farmers tend to just put the passports in their pockets, which is not a very safe thing to do," says Ms Thompson. "But at any rate make sure you get a receipt for the passports whenever you hand them over to someone else, such as a dealer."

There is room for more ideas for secure but easily legible and cheap transport systems, and farmers weekly would be glad to have farmers suggestions.

&#8226 StockBureau can be contacted on 01387 860227.

Meat plant wants traceability

DEVELOPING a new meat plant to handle all beef, lamb and venison produced by JCBs farming enterprise in Staffs has highlighted the need for total traceability using detailed computerised record keeping.

Peter Gray, farm manager at Wootton Farms, near Stoke-on-Trent, says the decision to extend the venison marketing business to include all home-bred beef and lamb meant traceability of all stock was a priority.

"After the recent problems that have hit the UK beef industry any marketing development like ours had to be underpinned by computerised record keeping. This ensures we have a precise history of all stock from birth to slaughter," says Mr Gray.

The suckler herd comprises 230 Aberdeen-Angus x Holstein Friesians – all of which are put to the Aberdeen-Angus bull. The farm also has its own herd of 25 pedigree Aberdeen-Angus.

"We used to buy in 35-40 replacement heifers a year. Now we breed all our own females to give us closed herd status and full traceability."

The original Australian software computer programs have been replaced by Agriplan 2000, which is used to record all breeding data from service dates, calving records, weaning and finishing weights. All financial data is handled by the main farm accounting programme.

The computers e-mail system is also used to transfer data to BCMS at Workington for the issue of cattle passports.

"Having all this information on screen means we can quickly work out the performance of individual cows and bulls and their progeny and compare actual results with EBV figures."

Performance of calves from the 850 red deer breeding hinds which are mated in groups to individual stags, is also tracked through to slaughter via the computer program.

"As well as being invaluable to evaluate management and performance of the deer herd, the computer program gives us total traceability.

"It is just as important to have traceability of venison as it is with any other red meat. Consumers of wild venison have no idea where an animal has been; farmed venison is backed up by individual tagging and every animal is logged into the computer to give ultimate confidence to the consumer."

Wootton Farms does not use electronic tags and all data is transferred manually to the office computer from written sheets.

"There are gizmos we could use to input data in the field situation when we are handling stock and download it directly into the computer. But I just feel happier about the information being installed manually into the main system."

COMPUTER RECORDS

&#8226 Full traceability.

&#8226 E-mail for passports.

&#8226 Evaluate sire performance.