How Yorkshire farm is using EID to find most productive ewes

A Texel-cross flock is trying to improve future profitability by using electronic identification (EID) data to select for lines that can wean two 35kg lambs at 90 days.

The Wilsons at Searchlight Farm, Middlesbrough, have been learning about flock data and EID recording since investing in their first hand-held reader in 2010.

They created a nucleus flock of 120 ewes in 2019 from their commercial 600-head Texel-cross and Mule flock.

See also: How EID is helping beef finisher identify poor performers

This was done to improve growth from grass, maternal ability and to control supplementary feeding costs.

EID helps manage breeding decisions and avoid inbreeding, while allowing the farm to close its flock and breed its own replacements.

Farm facts

Searchlight Farm

  • 600 ewes on 90ha (223 acres) of grass, half of which is ploughable
  • 40ha (110 acres) of feed barley
  • 11ha (27 acres) of red clover
  • 141ha (350 acres) overall
  • Supplying Tesco on a deadweight cost of production contract

“We hope to track ewe performance to find the best sheep and focus the best tups at the best ewes,” explains Ian Wilson, who farms with parents Ray and Elizabeth and wife Anna.

The Wilsons currently lamb inside but have tried more maternal New Zealand Texel rams in the past couple of years with outdoor lambing in mind.

“None of us is getting younger and outdoor lambing could be easier from a labour point of view,” adds Mr Wilson.

Nucleus flock

Ewes are selected for the nucleus flock based on:

  • How many lambs they wean at 90-100 days – the best wean two 35kg lambs
  • Their easycare credentials – how good they are to lamb and how healthy their feet are
  • The fact they haven’t prolapsed.

The Wilsons found 85 of the 88 ewes still on the farm from their initial pick in 2019 have made it into the nucleus flock in consecutive seasons, with the others being culled out because of age or mastitis.

“We’ve been trying to breed the best gimmers we can and close the flock as much as possible,” says Mr Wilson.

“Fast growth to weaning and days to slaughter are important here as we struggle to have enough grass to tup ewes at home and carry lambs into the winter.”

Nucleus flock weaned heavier lambs last year

Weight

Nucleus flock (kg)

Average of rest of flock (kg)

Bottom 10% (kg)

Five-week weight

17.76

16.86

14.72

Eight-week weight

25.67

25.53

19.96

100-day weight

32.99

32.3

27

Importance of weight recording 

As well as improving flock genetics, weight-gain data flagged up a cobalt issue in 2019, when average daily liveweight gains dropped by about 50g/day.

It has also identified rams throwing gimmers with bad feet and poor shoulders and conformation, allowing the Wilsons to cull them or use them as terminal sires. 

Flock data has also proved a New Zealand Texel (2910) from Robin Hulme, Easyrams, was superior to a more conventional Texel (3900) that was more impressive to look at (see table below).  

Two Texels compared

Traits

Tup 3900 (Texel)

2910 (New Zealand Texel)

Scanning (%)

153

179

Birthweight (kg)

4.1

4.2

Five-week weight (kg)

16.6

18.8

Eight-week weight (kg)

21.5

23.9

Weaning weight (kg)

30.5

31.9

Days to slaughter (kg)

186

174

Killing out (%)

45

44

Carcass price (£)

85.81

86.14

Shearling tupping weight (kg)

63.5

68.2

How EID works 

All the family is involved at lambing time, and all lambs are EID-tagged within 24 hours of birth.

Birthweight is gauged by weighing a sample of small, large and average-sized lambs.

After lambing, most EID recording is done in a polytunnel with a drafting pen at one end, filtering through to a race and weigh crate or a Combi Clamp.

Lambs are then weighed at five and eight weeks old (when vaccinations are given), at weaning (100 days) and then weekly until sale.

Ewes are condition-scored and weighed pre-lambing (vaccination) at eight weeks, weaning, tupping, housing and scanning.

This data, along with cull remarks and lambing comments, is transferred to the farm computer, which uses Border Software to identify trends and issues, and into the AHDB Challenge Sheep database.

EID Equipment at Searchlight Farm

The Wilsons have bought several pieces of EID kit since 2010 without grant assistance.

For a similar setup today, Mr Wilson says it could cost about £3,500 (ex VAT). Below, he talks through each one.

Agrident 600 – handheld EID tag reader

  • Strengths: It’s easy to use, good at putting weight data into your software system and fits in your pocket. It allows you to split ewes into nine tupping groups and identify them, which we use to rank them. It allows you to record condition score and scanning results.
  • Considerations: It’s a little basic because you can’t recall information such as bloodlines, medicine records, weight gains etc. It works by “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG), which means you can sometimes make mistakes, such as attributing the wrong ewe to lambs, but this can be corrected later.
  • Why we have it: This was bought back in 2010 when we were still getting to grips with EID recording. It’s simple and works well for basic things such as breeding families and flock records for compliance.

Agrident Psion – handheld EID tag reader and computerised flock record keeper

  • Strengths: Whole database is accessible and readable while out with the sheep, unlike the 600, making it harder to make mistakes. It has a larger screen to help data reading manageable. You look back at weight gains, date of birth, sire, dam and all medicine records.
  • Considerations: It is more complicated to use and doesn’t recall animals once they have left the farm.
  • Why we have it: We bought it in 2018 as we were wanting to record more than just weight data.

Tru-test Easy Weigh 7 – weigh display screen and weight gain calculator

  • Strengths: It’s very simple. It only shows total weight, daily liveweight gain and the animal’s EID number. This is attached to either the weigh crate or the Combi Clamp.
  • Considerations: Remember it needs a reader, such as a handheld reader or a panel reader. They are only as good as the accuracy of the weigh crate.
  • Why we have it: It captures weights very quickly. Seeing weight gain on a screen can quickly tell you how well or badly a batch of lambs is doing. It’s compatible with lots of operating systems.

Combi-clamp with weigh cells and panel reader

  • Strengths: Combining a Combi Clamp with an EID panel reader means EID tags can be read and sheep restrained as the operator’s hands are free.
  • Considerations: Panel readers are very sensitive and can pick up sheep near the clamp rather than just in the clamp, so ensure the flow of sheep is kept away from the reader panel and keep an eye on tag numbers.
  • Why we have it: EID records can be taken while you dose, trim backsides and check mouths, feet and bags. If an animal has a problem, you can revert to the Psion and press the cull button or record what the problem is.

Farmers Weekly Awards 2022

Enter or nominate now

Farmers Weekly Awards 2022

Enter or nominate now