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Making decisions based on hard data not gut feel

Thursday, 01 September, 2022

Ken McMiken
Traditionally, farmers have assessed their animals’ body condition by sight, relying on a wealth of farming knowledge and experience built up over many years. And it’s served them well. 

But as we continually strive to produce more from less, making decisions based on hard data as opposed to a ‘gut feel’, is becoming the new normal. 

As Gallagher’s territory manager for the Tasman and West Coast regions, Ken McMiken sees his fair share of farmers. In fact, he spends most of his time on the road showing farmers how good technology can make farming easier and more profitable.

“Farmers are proud people who back themselves to make good calls,” he says. “The good news is farmers now have access to new tools and technology to help them see what’s happening beneath the surface.

“Some farmers hesitate to use new technology. They’re not sure if it will help them or confuse them, so they stick with pen and paper to record things. Or if they do have the gear, they may not know how to get the most out of it.

“At the same time, these farmers have smart phones and quite capably run apps on them. If they can use a smart phone, they can easily run Gallagher technologies.

“And all our technology syncs up with your phone. Whether its weigh scales, fencing systems or water monitoring, you can literally have decision-making information at your fingertips.”

Ken has recently seen first-hand the value regularly measuring and monitoring your animals’ performance can deliver to a farm business. 

“I’d had an enquiry from a farmer about our TW1 weigh scale and he was keen to buy it,” he says. “As part of the training, I went to his farm to demonstrate how to use the weigh scales, and we ran some of his cattle through the system. Doing a hands-on demo is the only way to learn.

“Everything went well. The EID HR4 reader automatically scanned the ear tags and recorded each animal’s weight and various other stats. There was a stockman on hand to help us, so I also showed him how the system worked. Everything was set up and good to go.”

A month later, the farmer called Ken back to do a refresher session with his team. It made sense to weigh the same animals for the follow-up training session. It was an opportunity for Ken to reinforce the correct procedures. He could also demonstrate how to use the weigh scale’s comparative stats to assess the animals’ progress and use that information to make decisions.

“As the cattle came into the yard, the stockman observed how good they looked. He noted the physical conditioning and the health of their coats,” says Ken.  

“However, as each animal came through the scales, their current weight was automatically compared to the previous stat. Every number was a minus – they’d all lost weight.

“We were all surprised. But the numbers don’t lie – these scales aren’t fooled by appearances. 

“Now we were confronted with two questions. How did the cattle lose condition, and what’s the best course of action now?”

The farmer noted that they’d been pushing the MOB hard on the hill country. The animals had also been grazing an area to clean up rough grass. The extra physical exertion coupled with lower quality feed meant the animals were spending more energy than they were banking. The resulting weight loss was inevitable.

Ken was there when they outlined their next course of action.

“Both the farmer and stockman were clear in their minds – these animals needed to be moved to better pasture to recover the condition they’d lost. 

“The accurate, comparative data gathered enabled the farmer to make more informed decisions to protect the health of his animals and bottom line. You can actually put a price on that!”

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