Individual data set to reap collective sheep flock benefits

Individual animal management has the capacity to significantly improve a flock’s productivity, if done the right way, according to AgriPartner Consulting livestock consultant Hamish Dickson.

Mr Dickson is one of the speakers who will feature in Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation’s (AWI) ‘It’s ewe time!’ forums, to be held in Cooma, Gunning and Cowra on July 24-26 2018.

He will discuss how using individual animal management can lift whole flock productivity, what is required to implement the technology and the cost benefits of investment in electronic identification (EID) and associated infrastructure.

“We’re seeing a swing towards producers collecting more data in sheep enterprises, particularly at an individual animal level,” Mr Dickson said.

“We need to consider if we are collecting the right data, how we’re going to use it and how it’s going to improve the overall enterprise.”

He said producers should have a plan for where they want their enterprise to be in five to 10 years and use those goals to guide their decision making in what data is required and how it can be used.

“It may involve the use of technology in the collection of individual animal data, but we have to actually make sure that’s related to a production outcome,” he said.

Mr Dickson says commercial producers are using electronic identification and individual data more extensively for tasks like identifying lambs based on growth rates.

“Lambs with faster growth rates can then be managed differently to lambs with slower growth rates, ,” he said.

“You could potentially improve the growth rates in the slower animals if it’s required.”

With a range of technology and infrastructure available to aid in data collection, Mr Dickson recommends making buying decisions based on frequency of use and whether the data garnered is beneficial.

“Producers might be justified in buying a handheld tag reader and a weigh scale indicator, but they might not be in a position to justify buying an auto drafter for example,” he said.

“In a wool production system there may be a requirement for scales to measure fleece weight, barcode printers and scanners for tracking individual fleeces.”

There can be a real cost benefit in collecting data which can be used practically on-farm, leading to a more productive and resilient flock, according to Mr Dickson.

“Often you can have a flock which can potentially produce the same output with a lower number of breeding ewes which, through tight seasons, means you have less mouths to feed,” he said.

“If you already have good information on these animals, when times get tough you can identify the lowest performers within the flock and then it becomes a simple decision as to which animals go first and which animals are most valuable to retain.”

Other speakers at the ‘It’s ewe time!’ forums include Bruce Watt, Central Tablelands LLS; Matt Playford, Dawbuts; Doug Alcock, Graz Prophet Consulting; Geoff Duddy, Sheep Solutions; Megan Rogers, SheepSMART Solutions and Simon Vogt, Rural Directions.

Southern NSW It’s ewe time! forums include:

  • Alpine Hotel, Cooma, NSW: Tuesday 24 July 2018
  • Gunning Shire Hall, Gunning, NSW: Wednesday 25 July 2018
  • Cowra Services Club, Cowra, NSW: Thursday 26 July 2018

Source: MLA

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