With a small flock of around 500 ewes, Lee and Hetty O’Brien have found significant benefits from a modest investment in electronic identification (eID) equipment. The O’Briens run a mixed farming operation and self-replacing Merino flock at Henty, NSW. The flock averages 19 micron, with cull ewes retained and joined to Poll Dorset rams each year.
Mr O’Brien says the eID/TSi system they use has given them the capacity for instant information on every individual animal on their property. “We can ensure whole of life traceability of all sheep born, raised and sold on and from Myrtle Park and the data we have on our sheep gives us additional confidence in the decisions we make regarding the management and selection of our flock,” he said.
“We haven’t put a figure on the benefits but we know we are doing a better job with our sheep and we are confident we will see that on the bottom line of our balance sheet over time. “For example, we were concerned that the ewes had dropped weight between early December 2014 and joining in late January 2015. However, a quick comparison with the 2014 pre-joining weights showed the ewes were actually 4-5kg heavier in 2015 and were in condition score 3 and above, which instantly eased our minds.”
The O’Briens system features a Gallagher HR4 stick reader, TSI display unit, load bars, bar code printer and bar code scanner. Using this equipment and a Prattley three-way manual draft weigh crate they have now collected two years’ worth of data.
Mr O’Brien has installed steel poles at strategic points in the sheep yards where he mounts the TSI indicator and simply covers it with a large golf umbrella to reduce sun glare on the screen and protect it from the weather.
For fleece weights, a metal frame bolted to the feet of a Lyco round wool table sits on the load bars which are plugged into the TSi. The TSi is mounted on the wall next the wool table. The fleeces are weighed on the table prior to skirting and the weight is automatically recorded in the TSi.
“Training the shed staff to use the HR4, barcode scanner and weighing process only takes a few minutes and after the first few fleeces are across the table they have the confidence to continue unaided,” Mr O’Brien said.
The sheep eIDs are scanned by the rousty using the HR4 which is bluetoothed to the bar code printer and the bar code printout is scanned into the TSi using a bar code scanner when the fleece is thrown onto the wool table. Additional data, such as tensile strength and dermo, are recorded for each sheep as the fleece is classed.
“We can collect all the data we need and record, track and refine our management practices using this set of equipment,” he said.
“We collect information on liveweight, daily weight gain, fleece weight, wool quality/soundness, fleece testing, pregnancy scanning, twins and singles, wet and dry, mating records and classing records. “Veterinary treatments and any health issues are also recorded for all sheep as individuals. This allows us to give animals individual veterinary treatments as required, monitor their response and be assured each animal is outside their WHP/ESI withholding prior to sale.”
Mr O’Brien said the system assisted with flock management, with sheep now able to be drafted by micron, fleece weight, live weight ranges, twins and singles, age and treatment groups.
The data has shown a large range in greasy fleece weights within the wether group, with their best performers delivering 4kg more wool than the average, allowing him to more easily identify high-value sheep and their genetics.
“We generate reports using the TSi APS software to inform our sheep classer on a range of traits - micron, comfort factor, CV, fleece weight, live weight, twin/single - and we use the objective information as well as his visual assessment to select replacements ewes,” he said.
“We also generate reports to inform our management decisions and monitor our sheep more effectively throughout the year.”
The O’Briens use Allfex re-usable tags in their flock and do not find any great issues with removing tags as animals leave the property. “We use Gallagher APS software to manage the data, the animals that are sold remain in the database with a management number, but the eID is removed (using the bulk update function) to allow us to recycle the tag into next year’s drop of lambs,” Mr O’Brien said.
“I could have bought a GPS steering system for my tractor two years ago, but Hetty said I could drive the tractor straight enough on my own, so we decided to invest in the Gallagher TSi/eID system instead.
“We have not regretted that decision. I estimate that the equipment and recyclable tags cost around $1/head/year after allowing for depreciation and we certainly get more than a dollar benefit from them.”
Media contact: Michael Thomson on 07 4927 0805 / 0408 819 666
The CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation is co-funded under the Commonwealth Government's Cooperative Research Centres Program.