Bolus bonuses in lamb area

5 October 2001

Bolus bonuses in lamb area

By John Burns

south-west correspondent

ELECTRONIC identification of ewes and rams is a big bonus for one Cornish producer who would also like to use the technology on slaughter lambs, following a farm trial this spring.

Barbara and Richard Bennett have clear targets for the 600 ewes they run on Lower Norton Farm, Stoke Climsland, and they are using every means possible to achieve them.

They sell all lambs through the Cornwall Quality Livestock co-op, which markets them to best advantage and ensures good feedback of carcass data. The co-op has also been successful in securing Objective 5B grants to improve the quality of cattle and lambs produced.

Grants of up to 50% of cost have allowed the Bennetts to invest in good quality, high lean index rams, as well as handling and weighing equipment. A grant also helped them buy a livestock trailer meeting all specs for animal welfare, cleaning and disinfection.

To meet market demands, the Bennetts breeding target is a prolific early-lambing ewe producing lean, fast-growing lambs. They started with Poll Dorset x Mules put to Poll Dorset rams and have since also tried crosses by Rouge and Lleyn rams.

For three years they spent many hours reading eartags and laboriously recording data from ewes and lambs and trying to analyse it. They also found out just how time-consuming it was making sure the right ewes went with the specified ram. At tupping, they had 20 groups each of 30 ewes and a ram.

So, this year Mrs Bennett insisted on introducing an electronic identification system, along with the associated automatic reading, weighing and recording equipment. For ewes and rams she chose rumen boluses carrying the electronic ID device. Bolus supplier Shearwell Data also suggested trying some mini boluses in lambs of one to three days old and she readily accepted the free offer.

"We bolused about 20 lambs. One end of the bolus has slightly rounded edges and as long as you put that end in first, they slide down the lambs throat surprisingly easily. We just used our fingers and found it was easiest to do when lambs were about one day old. Once they are a few days old they are just that bit more active, making the job more difficult."

The Bennetts had hoped to get some experience of reading the boluses in the abattoir. But that was denied by a foot-and-mouth outbreak at a nearby abattoir, so they were under movement restrictions when they had 600 lambs ready to go. After six weeks, there was no alternative but to send lambs on the welfare disposal scheme and all carcass data was lost.

But boluses in ewes and rams have proved their value. Apart from making it possible to record medicinal treatments, wormers and vaccinations automatically, it speeded up selection of ewes into tupping groups. Had they had suitable equipment to shed off selected ewes automatically, the boluses and readers would also have allowed that to be done.

When bolused ewes and rams run through the weigh-crate fitted with a special reader, their ID is recorded automatically, alongside other details such as weights, medicinal treatments or which ram they went with.

Information is stored initially on a small, robust, hand-held computer which can also accept data inputted manually. All data can then be transferred to the office computer on which the Bennetts run FarmWorks 2001.

The programme is a comprehensive livestock recording system with many extras to deal with the increasing amount of record keeping, movement and medicine records. It also records individual pedigrees and performance records, and allows analysis of carcass data to highlight the best-performing ewes and rams.

Mrs Bennett says she cannot speak too highly of the boluses. Her only regret is that they are still too expensive to justify use on slaughter lambs. This is where they could be useful to both abattoir and producer. Data could be provided in a form which could be transferred automatically and speedily to a computer programme capable of storing it and analysing it, she adds.

According to Shearwell Data, adult sheep boluses cost just over £3 each and the mini bolus for young lambs is about £2.20, depending on quantity. It is also necessary to tag sheep which have been bolused, so that everyone – especially the abattoir – is aware there is a bolus inside them. &#42

Set in a box


* Ease management on-farm.

* Link into computer records.

* Lamb size available.

Using electronic identification boluses in ewes, rams and one-day-old lambs offers many benefits, say Barbara and Richard Bennett.


&#8226 Ease management on-farm.

&#8226 Link into computer records.

&#8226 Lamb size available.

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