Legible data, whatever the weather

Recording ewe records, such as tupping and lambing information, with an excel spreadsheet personal digital assistant (PDA) makes flock management simpler and means records can easily be compared from year to year.

Kirby Stephen, Cumbria-based hill farmer Wayne Huchinson says the idea of recording ewes electronically first occurred to him when he was struggling to record lambing data in wet weather with a notebook and pen.

“The paper was getting wet and the writing was becoming illegible, we had to find another way of recording the data.”

With more than a passing interest in technology and 600 pedigree Swaledale ewes to keep track of, Mr Hutchinson decided a PDA was the answer to his problems. Data recorded could be easily uploaded on his home computer each evening.

“This means records are constantly updated, without the need for me to key the data in.

Also, electronic identification looks like it will come in the near future, so I wanted to have at least some computerised records established before electronic tagging was thrust upon us.”

With lambs tagged at birth and sire and dam information also recorded, accurate data is essential, says Mr Hutchinson.

“At birth lambs are tagged with a unique identification number, which can be recorded on to the PDA against the ewe’s data.

With tupping details already recorded in autumn, that is all the information we need for a complete pedigree.”

But while some farmers opt for custom designed software to base their recording systems on, he has devised his own record sheet covering all the data he needs.

“It’s just a simple spreadsheet program, but it means we can adapt it to meet our needs as we go along.

We add extra columns to record other relevant information, or delete a column we feel is unnecessary.

“Having used the PDA successfully last lambing we will now add extra columns to the spreadsheet to record next year’s lambing and continue to add columns for every year we lamb a particular ewe.”

This, he suggests, will make cross referring to previous years’ records much easier than having to go back through two or three separate lambing books to find the information needed.

“This way we will simply have to follow the record across the page to find the information.

This may leave us with rows of data, but at least it will be in the same place.”

Entering new records into the system is simple, as keying in a ewe’s individual number brings up her record instantly.

“Then we key in how many lambs she has had, their sex and individual tag numbers.

We also have a column for notes about the ewe so we can record details such as when one only milks on one side or has large teats.”

It is this recording of problems that Mr Hutchinson believes could be the system’s real advantage, as it will allow recurring health problems, such as repeated lameness, to be noted and ewes culled according to the records.

The program used allows for the records to be arranged in whatever order you want, he says.

“For instance, normally the ewes are arranged in numerical order, but they can be rearranged into any other order at the touch of the screen.

So if we want to see records for all ewes with tup lambs we can.”

But the system is not without its problems, and he says it is all too easy to delete a record by mistake.

“Out on the fell at lambing I did erase the information from a couple of cells, but so long as you spot it in time it is easily corrected.”

Mr Hutchinson has also started recording suckler cow and calf data on the PDA.