Is EID a useful tool for sheep breeding decisions?

Caroline Stocks speaks to two farmers adopting different approaches.

YES – It has great potential

Tony Norris, farm manager, Cirencester College – 400-ewe flock made up of North Country Mules, Welsh Mules and Highlander ewes

How long have you been using EID?

We started using EID this year as part of a research project at the college.

What do you expect to gain?

It is another job during lambing, but given the information we are getting, there is huge potential for helping us improve our systems. We have a commercial flock and we are assessing the conformation of lambs at the point of marketing – we can compare the different breeds from birth to slaughter, assessing liveweight gain and quality of the carcass down to individual ewes.

Is EID for everyone?

If you’re doing any meaningful research it’s essential. If you are running a large, commercial flock and like feedback on breed performance you can do it manually, but it’s easier if it’s electronic to record the information and get it on the system. It’s not essential, but it’s like precision-farming in arable – it depends on how far you want to go.

Will EID help with the future of the flock?

It will help with management as we move down the line, such as when to cull single-breeding ewes or ewes that have prolapsed – you can wait to see if the same thing happens next year and then make a decision.

If we want to improve the gene pool we can find the best ewes more easily with EID.

We can put our finger directly on where the strengths and weaknesses lie. You can have a fair idea with a paper system, but you can’t accurately get the intensive detail as with electronic recording.

As the cost of technology comes down, more commercial businesses will be able to justify investing in the technology.

NO – There’s not enough reliability

Martin Greenfield, Twycross, Leicestershire – 1,000-ewe Texel cross flock

Why don’t you use EID?

My main objection is it’s not 100% reliable. I have sent lambs to the market and then had a letter from Trading Standards telling me I’d used the wrong tags. I had tagged them with new EID tags, straight out of the pack, and three of them didn’t read. Is that my fault, the market’s or the manufacturer’s? I went around all my buyers at Newark Market and asked them if they wanted or needed EID and they said just an ordinary tag would do.

Would you use EID in the future?

I’ve got 1,000 EID slaughter tags in my office. I can’t wait to use them and have a central database, but until it’s reliable and the EU allows for some discrepancy, I won’t do it. I can’t be sure that I am using EID to the law and I am not risking a fine.

What system do you use instead?

We just batch record all our lambs using ordinary slaughter tags. We will have to individually record eventually, but hopefully readers will become cheaper and more reliable.

How could EID be improved so you would be more inclined to use it?

I’m a practical person and I will use something if it makes sense, but this doesn’t make sense.

If central recording and movement forms were made as simple as filling out the SFP form online then that would be brilliant.

I don’t know if electronic is the answer. It’s taken a lot of the guesswork away from people, but we are losing the skills of the real stockman – the eye for good sheep and selecting for good back fat. If the costs are more than you’re saving, then how is it a benefit? At this stage it needs more research, more leeway from Europe and cheaper tags and recording equipment.

Expert’s view

More and more farmers are finding the benefits of using EID to help manage their flocks and make better breeding decisions, says Shearwell’s Richard Webber.

“Using EID gives you precise knowledge of an individual animal’s ability to perform. The marker chip turns every farm into a potential experimental farm, giving you the ability to find out how much money each individual ewe has made.”