Embracing innovation

27 Jul, 2006 07:00 PM

QUINTARRA Farms at Esperance is a property run by innovative farming family the Quinlivans, who have been early adaptors of new technology and management tools, ensuring they are able to meet the changing needs of the agriculture industry.

Speaking at the recent AWI 7th World Merino Conference on behalf of his family was Mick Quinlivan, who discussed the innovations the enterprise had incorporated into its Prime SAMM stud, commercial flock and feedlot.

"I find it pretty exciting but also pretty expensive for sheep producers to be leaders or ground breakers of new equipment, but it's certainly satisfying," he said.

"I suggest you as producers examine, study and trial any latest devices and make sure you are an early adaptor and not the last to take up good sensible solutions, otherwise - like the graingrower who hasn't taken up new technology - it will be very hard to attract staff."

Mr Quinlivan said the cropping aspect of farming had taken up new technology quickly.

"Cropping has raced away from the sheep industry - taking many of our managers and workers - and we of the sheep industry need to address this," he said.

"I believe we now have many new tools to do this and I think the future is now."

Mr Quinlivan said a lack of use of computers and new technology needed to be addressed in the sheep industry.

He said computer use as a data collector was rare and limited to a few stud breeders.

One of the ways the Quinlivans have used the advantage of computers is through electronic RFID tags.

"We've been using them for four years for the stud sheep and I believe it is the way of the future for the commercial flock," Mr Quinlivan said.

"Electronic RFID is not cheap, but is affordable and the only real way to keep relevant information on an animal's resume.

"Before we started using RFIDs we started to ask ourselves, 'Are we managing a flock or a group of individuals?' and we obviously decided on the latter."

Mr Quinlivan said the family wanted to know everything about its sheep including whether they were born and raised as a twin, its micron, body weight and greasy fleece weight, if they scanned dry, single or multiple and if they were dry or wet at lamb marking.

Most other methods are time consuming and can get lost in the system, according to Mr Quinlivan.

"We also use a colour-coded management tag for further identification," he said.

"If one tag is lost there is an association tag so you can regain the knowledge you have on the animal."

A race reader is also a valuable piece of equipment that Mr Quinlivan believes is an essential tool for his enterprise.

"The cattle industry over the past couple of years has been leading the way in this area," he said.

"Electronic tagging of ewes and lambs and the use of race readers through a walk-through race and using repeatable association is currently being trialed in NSW.

"This could help identify multiple births, as that is one of the weaknesses at this point in time."

DNA testing is another management tool the Quinlivans adopted early.

They began after many years of mothering up in the sheep flock and as the stud ewe numbers grew so did concerns for accuracy.

"Frustration started to appear so we considered the cost of DNA testing compared to the labour of mothering up and lack of skilled, experienced stock people," Mr Quinlivan said.

"So the decision was made to DNA all stud lambs.

"Fortunately we made the decision when the stud ewe numbers were still manageable, however, the alternative is to only DNA the elite stud ewes and rams."

Mr Quinlivan said there was the possibility of 10-20pc cross mothering occurring and 10-11pc misreading of tags.

DNA testing also allows for gene marking: the objective and accurate identification of the best and most profitable sheep in the flock.

"Over time we expect gene marking for important traits will be identified and quickly implemented to take advantage of whatever trait it may be," Mr Quinlivan said.

"DNA also allows multiple sire mating.

"Single sire mating makes me shudder so to be able to DNA test and multiple sire mate is easier for management also."

Mr Quinlivan is also an advocate of auto-drafters, believing they are essential for medium- to large-scale producers.

He said New Zealand manufacturers were the first to go into serious production of many sheep innovations, especially auto-drafters.

"For the past two years we have seen them more commonly around at sheep field days," Mr Quinlivan said.

"Today producers can spend as little as $5000 for a manual weighing create that drafts up to five ways, or they can spend up to five times that for one that reads RFID tags and drafts into weight ranges."

This is an important aspect for the Quinlivans, who have the ongoing job of weighing lambs for marking and delivering a B-train load of lambs to the processor every month.

"The auto-drafter makes sheep work easier and more enjoyable with very few lambs not meeting the contract weight specifications," Mr Quinlivan said.

"Also, we don't require an agent to market our lambs and we attribute that a lot to our auto-drafter.

"Sheep farming without scales is like a tractor with no steering mechanism.

"The auto-drafter pays for itself through labour saving and accuracy of meeting market specifications."

The use of measurements and breeding values is another management tool the Quinlivans believe is essential to their enterprise.

Their motto is "measure it and then manage it" and have been objectively measuring using Lambplan since 1997.

This also links in with DNA testing, where they are testing to ensure the parentage is as accurate as they can get it.

"Keeping management groups separate requires good management, and weighing is not a problem," Mr Quinlivan said.

"It is important to use accredited scanners, however, they are scarce on the ground so it's important to book early to secure their services."

Mr Quinlivan said that when they started using Lambplan there was a noticeable indication that high growth rates and large eye muscle did not go together.

"By selection over the past 10 years, both subjectively and objectively, we are pleased to report a lot of progress has been made in this area," Mr Quinlivan said.

"Our preferred processor uses Viascan, so we can expect to be rewarded for lean mean in the future."

Pregnancy scanning is another management tool the Quinlivans are advocates of.

"I believe if you have enough paddocks this is a no-brainer," Mr Quinlivan said.

"Everyone should be pregnancy scanning; it's certainly one of the best management tools we started using quite some time ago."

In combination with scanning, Mr Quinlivan believes a short mating is also beneficial because it helps with management - especially lambing and marking - particularly regarding which sheep get the best feed.

"Every season is different so try and analyse the poorest results," Mr Quinlivan said.

"What were the affects, management, nutrition, bad weather or something else and rate the ewes accordingly.

"It greatly assists if you have to reduce flock numbers for any reason; you know your best and worst and what you're selling."

Mr Quinlivan said that as a producer of cattle and a cropping program in addition to his family's sheep operation he was bullish about the future of the sheep industry and the huge potential to increase productivity.

"Most of our efforts now are towards improving lamb survival, reproduction and sheep meat produced per hectare," he said.

"There are a lot of exciting developments ahead including wool harvesting such as Shear Express and upright shearing platforms, modern crutching systems and Bioclip.

"We need to improve conditions for our stock people and the covering of work areas will improve production and retain good stock people.

"We also need to compile all scanning measurements into one useable index; the industry needs to help put together laser scanning, OFDA, Lambplan and pregnancy scanning into one figure.

"Sheep planning software is also important so producers know when they last did jobs, used chemicals and what has been going on in each mob."

Mr Quinlivan said the industry required more sheep extension officers and sheep agronomists to put the whole sheep package together with enjoyment and passion.

"We can all learn something new every day," he said.


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