EID technology is being used by Scottish Borders farmer Fenwick Jackson as a management aid for his productive and easily managed flock.
Mr Jackson summarised his approach as: “I want to manage, not work!”
He and his father, who farm at Kersheugh, near Jedburgh, run 2500 ewes, plus 650 breeding and 300 dry ewe hoggs. They have a wide range of breeds, including Katahdin, Dorper, Wiltshire Horn, Easycare, Lairg Cheviot and Scotch Mules. The sheep are bred to naturally shed any wool they grow.
The Jackson’s combine their sheep’s EID tags with a computerised handling and automated drafting system, which can handle 450 sheep a hour. The selection instruction, e.g. breed, weight, sex, age or sire, is keyed into the control panel. The handling system reads the electronic ear tags and automatically sorts the sheep into up to six groups, while recording which sheep have gone into which group.
A weight platform is included in the system. “As lambs go through the system, the computer logs their weights, which identifies the better and poorer performing lambs, which offers a range of information, including how well a particular sire is breeding, mothering ability of ewes, or ewe lamb replacements with a higher natural worm resistance,” said Mr Jackson.
“We keep the male lambs entire, so need to split them from ewe lambs at weaning. The system automatically sorts them.
“We’re also going to condition score, manually the first time, inputting the information into the computer. It will then, in the future, flag up either too low or too high condition score, with animals sorted into the appropriate pen”.
The Jacksons bought their system in 2007 for £10,000, which was reduced by a 40% grant.
“It had paid for itself within the first three years,” said Mr Jackson, “due to us sending the correct lambs to slaughter, thanks to being able to regularly and accurately weigh lambs, which were then automatically sorted into groups, depending on their performance.
“However, while the capital cost can be recovered in a system of our scale, it may be more complicated in smaller systems,” he cautioned.