Gallagher Tools Key to Increasing Productivity for ‘Sheep Agronomist’

Anthony Shepherd founded independent sheep consultancy Sheepmatters in 2006. Today, the business services 35 annual clients on-farm, plus a host of one-off clients and subscription clients nationally and around the world, via phone and email. He and his wife Helen also run 2,000 Merino wethers on their own property, cell grazing them in one mob across 257 hectares.

Products
TSi & HR3 Hand Held EID Tag Reader
Sheep Auto Drafter
2,000 Merino wethers cell grazed as one mob
257 hectares (630 acres)

Achievement summary

  • Ability to index on individual commercial fleece value allows underperforming sheep to be culled, lifting average flock value
  • Wide-ranging accurate data enables commercial-based decisions
  • Keep/cull decisions made on individual animal productivity, not on age
  • Underperforming sheep can be identified and culled, raising mob production averages
  • Rugged equipment robust in transit and elements, as well as low maintenance needs
  • Keyboard and data presentation make equipment easy to use all day
  • Equipment non-invasive and non-threatening, keeping sheep calm

"Sheepmatters is a bit like a ‘101 help line’,” Anthony said. “A lot of people call me a ‘sheep agronomist’ — I do for productivity in sheep what an agronomist does for yield in crops.”
When he first began his business, Anthony, who grew up on a sheep property, used coloured tags and manual recording to record productivity on his clients’ properties.
“But it was a lot of hit and miss and re-checking. When I exposed myself to EID — electronic identification — the benefits were immediate and far reaching.”
Anthony came across Gallagher’s TSi and HR3 hand-held reader EID equipment in 2007, at a field day run by the Kondinin Group. In 2012, he also began using a Sheep Auto Drafter.
“I initially invested in the TSi and HR3 reader to value-add to my business, to offer my clients a better recording system. It really empowered me.
“I found the TSi very intuitive, easy to read with the big screen and big numbers. In the whole time I’ve had it, I’ve replaced one battery — that’s how reliable it is. And I use it at least twice a week, every week.
“It’s tough, rugged … and doesn’t talk back to me,” Anthony quipped. “At the end of the day, it’s still very user-friendly — the investment was definitely worth it.”

Benchmarking with data
Anthony sets benchmarks with his clients.
“With my annual clients, I establish what they are doing and how their sheep are performing today. From that I look at what changes we can make to their operation — how they work, how to make them smarter with their time, and how they and their sheep can be more productive. The next obvious step is identifying which animals are productive, versus which ones aren’t. The most efficient way of doing that is to measure the sheep: enter the TSi, HR3 hand-held reader and Sheep Auto Drafter.”

Performance not age
Anthony measures and records a raft of traits for clients, including fertility, maternal traits, weight gain, fleece weights, fleece value and, away from traits, product application.
“Take commercial ranking: some sheep do better than others in certain areas of performance. As an example, after subjectively classing the sheep, I collect fleece data and give it a value based off a three-year rolling average, then index them. I can then draft them through the Sheep Auto Drafter ranked on how valuable their wool is, identifying most valuable to least valuable in the mob. That helps us make solid decisions: if we need to offload sheep it won’t be on age, it’ll be on production.
“Before I had the TSi and HR3 reader, culling was done on age. Yet being able to see the actual data, it’s amazing how we cull younger animals over older ones a lot of the time. Those sheep that aren’t ticking the boxes, are dragging down the mob’s average. They’ve got to earn their keep; if not, they’re out — and the mob average improves quickly when you take out the true underperformers.
“Likewise for ewes without lambs. Scanning identifies if they’re dry or pregnant, singles or twins — fine; but you’ll find some ewes who get pregnant, but don’t have a live lamb every year. Those ones actually cost you a lot of money — they eat pasture, use vaccinations, drenches and so on, but aren’t paying you back. Doing the types of records we do with the TSi finds those ewes that were scanned in lamb, but don’t have milk, meaning they lost a lamb. Those ewes have a high repeatability of that happening again and again. However, using records on the TSi, we can simply identify them and cull them out.”

Smarter decisions
Anthony said using the TSi, HR3 hand-held reader and Sheep Auto Drafter in this way was very empowering and gave ownership to his clients about what their animals and systems were doing, to make it smarter.
“I’ve heard some people say the TSi is only good for studs, but that is just not so. This is real stuff. I use it across all my clients — Merino, first-cross flocks, second cross, feedlots … whatever the operation, it fits.”
He also uses the TSi, HR3 hand-held reader and Sheep Auto Drafter on his own wether mob.
“I’m into sharing information: whatever I do with my wethers, I share with my clients. It’s walking my talk, and it’s value-adding for them.”
Anthony said while some see technology as a threat, he uses it along side “old-style skills”.
“I use the visual skills typical of the sheep classers to take out the sheep that aren’t worth recording — bad wool types, bad conformation, ones that aren’t life-time sheep — then I do objective measurements with the TSi.”
Anthony said he’s also worked with sheep classers to empower them with objective information from the TSi.

Ability to cull under-performers
He cites another example of the Auto Drafter being a very useful tool.
“We had really dry conditions, so I needed to take the pressure off my home property. With the fleece indexing I do, numbers greater than 100 indicate a higher fleece value, while the lower the number, the lower the fleece value. I just dragged a CSV – a comma separated value – file, which is basically an Excel spread-sheet, into the TSi and told it to draft out anything in index 68 and below. That allowed me to selectively destock sheep keeping down the average — the ‘charity sheep’, the ones that weren’t earning me money to start with.”

Handling a breeze
Anthony said rounding up mobs to put through the Sheep Auto Drafter needs just a dog and himself.
“It’s non-threatening and non-invasive, so it’s not a bad experience for them. The last time my wethers went through, they just went in and stood there, and then they went out. They’ve gone through the Sheep Auto Drafter three times and they’re like dairy cattle now.”
Anthony said the information recorded and stored in the TSi was very valuable in running both his own operation, and for his clients in running theirs.
“Also, a day’s work can be saved on a USB stick, so that the information collected is not lost — that’s smart.
“All the information on the TSi is like a resume; it has everything about the operation, which makes it easy to see which sheep are performing the best to keep, and the underperformers to cull.
“What’s also very handy is that the HR3 hand-held reader, TSi and Sheep Auto Drafter will read any different type of electronic tag I have come across.”

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