ELECTRONIC identification (eID) tags and sheep handling technology is helping Wagin producer Clayton South make more informed management and breeding decisions.
The South family runs a 6500 head Dohne ewe flock, 1500 of which are mated to White Suffolk rams, on their 4900 hectares of owned and leased land at Wagin.
They crop about 70 per cent of their property, sowing wheat, barley, canola, lupins and milling oats.
As one of the producer speakers at this year’s LambEx 2018, which is being held in Perth, in early August, Mr South will focus on the use of new technologies in his commercial sheep operation.
“All the technology we are using has paid for itself in terms of ease of management,” Mr South said.
“Even in the good years it is still giving us benefits, but when the season is tight, you are able to make more targeted decisions based on an individual animal’s requirements.”
The South family has always been interested in improving the rate of genetic gain in their breeding flock.
Mr South’s father started pregnancy scanning for multiples and individually tagging ewes which were twin-bearing so they could be preferentially managed.
“After doing this for a few years we were finding a repeatability in the results, we found if we looked after the ewes scanned with twins, particularly after weaning to get them back in condition, it was more likely those ewes would scan with twins again the following year,” Mr South said.
“But individually identifying these twin-bearing ewes using special colour-coded discs on their tags was becoming too labour intensive, so we decided to bite the bullet and invest in some of the new technology which was becoming popular.”
Mr South purchased a Tepari sheep handler with a tag reader, scales, and a three-way auto draft.
To continue collecting pregnancy status information, in the first year they bought 8000 eID tags and re-tagged the whole ewe flock.
The historical lambing data was entered into the Sapien software as well.
For added flexibility in the yards, or when the sheep handler is not required, they have also purchased a Gallagher stick reader.
According to Mr South, the technology is helping to increase flock fertility by providing important breeding information.
“Although the technology was a significant investment, we financed the purchase of the sheep handler over five years so it has only cost about one dollar per head per year and will be paid off next year,” he said.
“Although we may not be getting any more efficiencies in throughput at drenching or weaning, we are gaining a lot of valuable data and the handler has made the job less physical having the sheep immobilised and therefore more enjoyable.”
A tight joining period is employed with the rams going in for only 30 days.
The ewes are then pregnancy scanned in April and foetal aged into early and late lambing and twin and single-bearing categories.
“The ewes go through the three way draft and their tags are read with the stick reader and we also use a auto record board which is pre-programmed into the different lambing categories so each ewe can be identified and inputted into the software,“ Mr South said.
“The ewes are then managed in their twin and single-bearing mobs until about four weeks prior to lambing when they are then split into early and late lambing mobs using the auto draft to read the tags.
“This allows us to provide a more targeted approach to their nutritional requirements as we know exactly where they are in their gestational period, for example we can keep the late lambing twin-bearing ewes in one mob and trail feed them closer to their time of lambing.
“It also means we don’t have 6500 ewes lambing at once, so our management and husbandry operations such as marking and weaning, are staggered.”
Any dry ewes are culled immediately and late lambing, single-bearing ewes are moved to the terminal sire flock the following year.
The South family has also started collecting information on growth rates.
In partnership with a neighbour, they have purchased a lamb weigh crate and scales so each lamb’s tag is read and weight recorded at marking, then weighed through the handler at weaning.
The ewe lambs are then run in mobs of up to 800 head, based on their weight categories.
At six months of age, the ewe lambs are weighed again and the heavier ones will be drafted off for joining.
“This will enable us to identify the higher-performing sheep within the mob, based on what the growth rate information is telling us,” Mr South said.
“The technology will also allow us to look at the individual performance of breeding ewes and rank them by the number of lambs they produce over a four or five year period.
“The software provides us with reports and we also use Microsoft Excel to analyse some of the data.”
They have also purchased a barcode printer and scanner to record ewe hogget fleece weights at shearing.