Increase flock health benefits with electronic identification

WITH 2200 ewes lambing in an eight week period either side of Christmas and replacement tups and ewes homebred, accurate record keeping is essential for the smooth running of Tony Good”s sheep enterprise.

But in electronic identification Mr Good believes he has found the answer to his identification and recording problems. Having suffered a large outbreak of scrapie among ewes in the mid 1990s, Mr Good began breeding for scrapie resistance by using only ARR/ARR rams.

“But this is a slow process, so when the Voluntary Scrapie Plan became available last year I signed up and all ewes were genotyped and identified with an electronic bolus.

“With all ewes identified electronically, I set about using EID to my advantage and bought a bolus reader to use when recording any event that happened to the flock or individual sheep,” explains Mr Good.

The main facts recorded at Warborough Farm, Wantage, are lambing details, with lamb numbers and sex being recorded as ewes are penned after lambing. “We only keep replacement ewes from dams which have two or more lambs.” Mr Good”s Finn- Dorset ewes regularly have triplets and quads, or even sextuplets.

Potential replacement ewe lambs are ear tagged at birth, with further selection taking place later in the year. “On the ram front, we only keep tups from litters of three or more, as this helps improve the prolificacy of their daughters.

“These are selected from ewes with a history of multiple births and are then reselected at about 12 weeks old. This means we are selecting tups based on the performance of their dam in rearing them in the first six weeks of life,” explains Mr Good.

In time, as Mr Good builds a history of each ewe, the data collected will make selecting potential replacements easier.

Mr Good also believes EID has the potential to enable him to reduce and possibly eliminate footrot problems. “We can now record every foot problem suffered by a ewe quickly and easily without having to fight to read a tag or running the risk of a ewe losing a tag.

“We can scan her bolus and differentiate between footrot, scald, contagious ovine digital dermatitis or other things like thorns in the feet. Any ewe with repeated footrot can be culled and none of her progeny kept as replacements, hopefully, over time we”ll be able to breed a flock resistant to footrot.”

Other health problems and treatments are also now recorded electronically, such as mastitis and ill-thrift. “All we have to do is download the data at the end of each day and the computer automatically updates the record for each ewe.”

While many may question the speed of using EID when treating large numbers of sheep, Mr Good says all flock treatments can be recorded on the computer by clicking on one button. “As most treatments, such as vaccinations, are given to the whole flock, or all sheep in one group this is quite simple.” And recording all treatments by computer has eliminated the need for a manual medicine book.

With EID now firmly in place, Mr Good is looking for other ways to make use of it which could deliver benefits to productivity. “We already use it to record movements, deaths and all lambing and health data, now I want to use it further down the line to obtain abattoir data.

“Being able to electronically relate lamb grades from kill sheets back to each lamb”s parents will enable replacement selection to be more co-ordinated and meaningful. We will be able to select ewes and rams from lines which consistently grade and kill out well. Hopefully, this will improve future production.”

Until compulsory EID is introduced in 2008, Mr Good does not expect to find an abattoir willing to provide this service. While positive about EID at the moment, Mr Good does have concerns for the future, in two to three years his flock is likely to be excluded from the Voluntary Scrapie Plan, after which he”ll have to pay for EID himself.

“It will be important to ensure there are visible economic benefits. EID is much more expensive than manual identification, so the benefits must outweigh the cost. Electronic tagging will become cheaper, but if management benefits cannot be identified, EID will be just another overhead on a beleaguered sheep industry,” he says.

On the scrapie front, thanks to earlier use of ARR/ARR the Warborough Farm flock is now resistant to scrapie, with all ewes carrying susceptible genotypes being phased out of the flock, adds Mr Good.

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