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Using Data to Inform Flock Management Decisions

11 July 2014

UK – Gathering data through the use of Electronic Identification (EID) has resulted in major breakthroughs in how farmers perceive their flock.

Information on performance of breeds on farm and rate of gain in lambs can be captured to reveal elements of management or the business that are strong or need improving.

This is according Dr Rachael Foy of the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) speaking at the recent Royal Agricultural Society (RASE) of England Flock Science Day, who detailed lessons learned through monitoring the RAU flock at Harnhill.

“We put the Highlanders against the Mule ewes and found that Highlanders are consistently working harder than Mules – both in terms of lambs produced and reared,” said Dr Foy.

“We know that if a Highlander is a more profitable ewe, every lamb lost hurts profits more.”

EID also suggested that Highlander x Primera, Highlander x Suffolk and Mule x Suffolk were the optimum crosses for the current Harnhill system based on £ lamb/kilo ewe and kilos lamb/kilo ewe.

Harnhill’s data also revealed Highlander x Texel progeny gave a carcass that achieved optimum specification.

However, this was at peak seasonal production so financial returns were limited.

EID is ‘essential’ for answering important questions about the flock, said Dr Foy.

She called on farmers to use the equipment to the ‘fullest potential and enter into EID in the ‘fullest way.’

Weight Gain and Health

Electronic recording and regular weighing can identify significant differences in lamb growth rates that can’t be picked up visually.

This is the message of independent sheep consultant Katherine Nakielny, who said the benefits extend into health too.

“Ewe weight on some farms varies by 40 per cent from heaviest to lightest,” explained Mrs Nakielny. “One farm I worked on we found that 20 per cent of the flock was under-dosed for fluke.”

She advised the RASE audience that regular weighing allows farmers to identify when a parasite is hampering growth and aids ‘twigging’ to drench resistance.

“Often you have to wait for lambs to be taking a month longer to finish to find out there is a resistance problem. Regular weighing and EID allows you to catch it the season resistance occurs.”

David Barber, farm manager at Worborough farm in the Berkshire Downs is seeing the benefits of EID and data that can be recorded.

Compare Like With Like

He urged farmers to ‘look for the sheep that give you the most money’.

But he stressed that in data analysis, farmers must compare ‘like with like’.

“If you are recording growth rates and health statistics, you need to be applying similar stock on similar feed – this is very important,” said Mr Barber.

“You can’t compare second rate stock put on a wet, poor field with data from lambs on a new grass ley.

“Similarly, old ewes using up old silage against the best ewes on top quality rations will not give you helpful data.”

He concluded that farmers should not try and do too much data collection, advising farmers to do what they can and then build up.

This was the message of Charlotte Johnston, technical livestock adviser at RASE, who told the seminar that accurate data can help a business progress.

“Monitor and measure as much accurate data as you can,“ she said. “Any recording is good – even on the back of a cereal box.”

Listing the benefits of farms she had visited, she said EID in sheep can ensure market specifications, effective use of nutrients and disease prevention.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms.

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