Sheep producers may be dreading the onset of compulsory EID, but three years ago a Scottish beef farmer voluntarily installed it on his 300-cow suckler herd and has been reaping the benefits ever since.
A lot can be learnt from EID livestock farmer focus writer and Farmers Weekly beef farmer of the year 2006, Robert Neill, who farms at Upper Nisbet on the Scottish Borders.
“EID has been an excellent investment and has allowed us to improve recording accuracy, carry out more efficient feeding and make labour savings,” he says.
“Personally, I am disappointed the government did not introduce EID to cattle before introducing it to the sheep industry – perhaps then, sheep producers would see the benefits of the system and be more open to change.”
The EID system at Upper Nisbet is now used to monitor liveweight gain and make targeted selection on finishing weights – essential to meet processor demand on carcass weights.
“Our processor doesn’t like stock to weigh more than 600kg so I try to get everything to finish at about 580-590kg. By using the print-out from EID recordings I can select animals accordingly.”
And the whole system is automatic and completely “hands free”. “Information is automatically downloaded onto the weigh head as the cattle go through the crush and daily liveweight gain is automatically calculated. I simply download the information onto Farmplan.”
With all cows calving in the spring, calves are weighed for the first time at weaning in the autumn. Finishing cattle are then weighed every 25 to 30 days. “This allows us to see exactly what our finishing ration is doing,” he says.
“I can use the programme to produce a multitude of different reports, comparing sire or daily liveweight gain.”
From these results Mr Neill can assess the performance of different sires. “I can then compare actual performance with Estimated Breeding Values.”
And the EID system has helped improved labour efficiencies during routine tasks, he says.
“When TB testing several hundred cows, human error is obviously a problem when manually recording tag numbers. But with this system numbers are automatically recorded, so human error is reduced,” he explains.
Accuracy of recording is an issue raised by many sheep farmers, but Mr Neill reports 100% efficiency. “As only one animal comes through the crush at a time, recording is a lot more accurate – no doubt it is easier with cattle than it would be with sheep.”
And tag retention has not been an issue. “We’ve only lost one tag in three years – because tags don’t need to be manually read, we can put them in close to the head so retention is improved.
“EID is relevant to everyone. There is no longer a big difference in price between EID tags and normal tags – the cost is in the weigh bars and panels,” he says.
And according to Mr Neill, all beef producers should have these as part of their management programme anyway.
“Farmers can simply add EID on as an extra option.”
Farmers should work to get the maximum benefit from EID, he says. “Although EID may be a large investment, the cost is easily recovered in reduced man hours.
“I would also encourage Scottish farmers to take advantage of the subsidies available to buy electronic equipment,” he adds.
To learn more about EID, visit AgriLive Smithfield at Stoneleigh Park on 11 and 12 December 2009.