Sheep Event: Electronic identification can bring data gathering benefits

Compulsory sheep electronic identification may be viewed by many as yet more legislation to make producers’ lives more difficult, but a Devon farmer has proved the opposite.

EID gives you the ability to manage ewes better and quickly identify any shortcomings in your system, says Peter Baber, Weir Park Farm, Christow.

As a breeder of Suffolks, Texels, Exlana, Suftex and Friesland, totalling 1150 ewes, an enormous amount of data is needed to determine the best animal for breeding.

“We take a lot of measurements to see which lambs perform best in our low-input system. And by recording at the same time as you would normally handle stock, you are almost getting ‘free’ data,” Mr Baber explains.

Before EID was introduced five years ago, only lamb weights were recorded, however the new system, which incorporates a weigh pad, has increased the ease at which both ewes and lambs can be monitored.

“It is simpler to weigh both mothers and lambs rather than split them off as they come through the race. And by recording year on year, it is easy to assess how the system is working.”

Although it has taken a number of years to gather benchmarking figures, collated data can now be used to make informed management decisions. “We can now see whether ewes have lost more weight that season and whether we need to wean earlier for example.”

Lambs are weighed at eight weeks, weaning and 20 weeks, and ewes at scanning, eight weeks post scanning, weaning and tupping.

The way the system is set up means five pieces of information can be recorded on some occasions, and the computer screen only touched three to four times.

At scanning, a short race is set up after the scanning point so key data can be recorded, he says. “The system automatically records the number of the animal, weight and which group they are from. Body condition score and number of lambs is then entered manually.”

The farm also records ease of birth, lamb vigour, colostrum yields and mothering ability at lambing.

And although the benefit of EID may be more marked on the breeding side, the system also comes into play for finishing animals. “When finishers are not achieving a target daily live weight gain of about 270-330g a day, we can accurately identify them within minutes,” he says.

“The more automated the system, the better – there is always the potential for human error when recording manually.

“When comparing reading a tag by eye and writing information, using EID is like the difference between driving a sports car or pushing a wheelbarrow.”

And the power of the information produced, alongside the added labour benefits, becomes apparent as soon as the system is in place. “The auto weigher may be more expensive, but you can easily justify it in time savings – we frequently weigh 300 animals an hour. And with this, the scales easily pay for themselves in two years.”

EID has the potential to benefit both commercial and pedigree producers, he says.

“More and more commercial farmers are becoming breeders in their own right by producing their own female replacements. And EID provides these guys with the tools to select their best stock for the future.

“But the main benefits are speed, efficiency and close to 100% accuracy in data recording,” Mr Baber stresses.

Producers should take advantage of the opportunities EID provides to improve profitability, says Richard Webber, Shearwell Data. “When the software is right, you can do anything you want in terms of management recording.”

And by linking EID to automated weigh platform, farmers are provided with the opportunity to make management choices, he says. “By assessing weigh records, farmers can plan when an animal will be ready for slaughter. And in some cases, poor live weight gains have been linked back to stale pastures.”

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