WA sheep EID program drives superior breeding
Wanting to get more out of his sheep encouraged James Evans to join an electronic identification (EID) workshop group, being specifically run in Western Australia.
The farm manager of the 6,000-hectare Cadogan Estates at Williams in WA’s south-eastern wheat belt, wanted to begin focusing on various traits, including eye muscle and fat.
“It can be hard to match rams to the ASBV figures [Australian Sheep Breeding Values] that we want — matching sheep conformation values and quality. Just as a back-up, we’ve also identified a few of our best ewes on confirmation and wool, targeting breeding from a better sheep.”
But James says the paper record keeping to enable that was time consuming and labour intensive.
Cadogan Estates runs around 33,000 stock units; it has 12,000 ewes and in excess of 12,000 lambs because it keeps all lambs more than a year. Wethers are sold off to the boat or to WAMMCO for lamb. But, as with many WA farms, livestock is only half the business: 3,000ha is cropped for cereals that are sold as grain, plus lupins and some hay for stockfeed.
Precision needed to increase quality
Since James arrived as manager four years ago, he’s gradually been increasing lambing percentages and also wants to expand ewe numbers.
“Before we got here, lambing percentages were less than 100 per cent. We're now lambing in the high 120s and consistently weaning over 100 per cent. This year maidens lambed at 112 per cent, which is our best year yet. It’s all working, but now we’re looking to be very precise to take it that little bit further.”
James says joining the EID program, being run by independent sheep-production advisory service Sheepmatters and animal-management specialist Gallagher, was the next logical step.
“It’s proved the direction I want to go and reinforced that yes, we are heading in the right direction. And the technology now is going to make that easier for us. With the amount of stock we’ve got here —and we’ve got a lot of stock — we want to do it the easy way, not the hard way.”
Anthony Shepherd, who heads up Sheepmatters, says the focus is commercial sheep operations.
“Some people have wondered why would you spend money on EID for commercial sheep. But the people who came to the initial workshop knew the basic answer to that was to improve your flock so you can earn more money.
“These farmers are putting their hand up and saying ‘we need to do something, because we just can’t find the rams we want out there’. Studs measure performance and present the best genetics to potential clients, but they just don’t have the information against those animals when they’re selling them. The analogy of buying rams without data is like buying a car and not knowing its engine capacity or how much fuel it will use.
“Anecdotal is fuzzy; there’s no guarantee at all genetically what those animals will, or won’t, do. It’s a big issue for quite a few of the commercial farmers.”
The program had an initial introduction of EID, its capabilities and benefits, with four workshops, on different participants’ farms, run throughout the year.
“We went through how commercially with EID we’re actually identifying the worst animals on performance to get them out of the system. This lifts the average of the mob and lowers the cost of production.”
From paper to electronic
James Evan hosted the first workshop for the Williams region group — and spent hours inputting paper records from five notebooks and his memory into a Livestock Manager TSi2, which automatically records data from EID tags, giving accurate livestock reporting and analysis, accessible in the yards or office.
“We only started collecting information a year ago. Going electronically is by far better than the good old pen and paper!”
James cites several benefits being involved in the program.
“We want to be able to pick our underperformers and cull them. We can do this with EID. The days are gone where you just grow sheep for wool, because wool doesn’t give you enough money. So our goal is to maintain the sheep with the wool we want, then try to increase fertility and bring out all these other traits, so they’re not just wool sheep.
“I think one of these days it’s going to be compulsory to have an EID tag in sheep and everybody is going to want to know their records, so the sooner you start the better off you’ll be, and you’ll be years in front of everybody else.
“I’ve learnt a lot from Anthony and from Craig [Moynihan, Gallagher’s Regional Manager for WA], and you pick up different ideas talking to the other participants as well. The more you get involved, the better off you are. This program has reconfirmed we’re doing the right thing.”
Craig Moynihan says, “Gallagher came on board to sponsor Anthony to come over here because we wholeheartedly believe in raising the productivity of the WA flock. The farmers in the workshops are really excited learning about EID because they want more control of their flock.”