Avington Farm 2600ha (6,422 acres) at Sidonia, Vic
Superfine & ultrafine Merino stud commercial wool operation
14,500 head total; 20,000 head goal by 2018
TSi2 Livestock Manager and transitioning to Panel Reader & intention to invest in Sheep Auto Drafter as stock numbers increase
Avington Farm runs a Merino and Poll Merino stud, plus commercial Merino enterprise at Sidonia, near Kyneton in Central Victoria.
Owned and operated by Noel and Lyndsay Henderson, micron and fleece weight are two key selection criteria; at last shearing, the averages were 15.8 micron and 5.2 kilograms fleece weight (for adult sheep).
Staple strength, length, a low co-efficient of variation of fibre diameter, crimp definition and nourishment are also important selection criteria. The farm has received a string of awards, including the 2014 Australian Superfine Wool Growers’ Association inaugural fleece competition 74s section and Ararat/Barunah area awards, plus Best Ultrafine Fleece at the 2013 Royal Melbourne Show; they’ve also won Most Valuable Commercial Fleece and Champion Extra Ultrafine Fleece.
Objective measurement vital
Objective measurement is a fundamental tool for Avington Farm to reach its goals.
All animals — both stud and commercial — have electronic identification (EID). Data is collected in the two stud operations for MerinoSelect, and this information is used to select ewes and rams for the annual breeding program with AI and embryo transfer.
Avington also uses a Gallagher TSi2 animal-management system to record detailed data on every animal.
At shearing, every sheep is scanned on the board and a barcode printed. This barcode stays with the fleece through its journey in the wool shed. First a greasy fleece weight is measured using the TSi2, then the fleece is skirted and transferred to a Laserscan machine, which tests every fleece for fibre diameter. This information and the fleece are forwarded to a specialist wool classer, who makes up bales into 0.5-micron lots.
Kirstie Anderson, who manages Avington Farm with her husband Nathan, says, “The TSi2 is very intuitive. When we’re shearing we weigh every fleece that has a barcode. It only usually takes one run for the wool handlers to become comfortable with the TSi2’s basic use, and by the end of the day they can easily use the ‘find tag’ function, which means I can leave them to it and get on with other aspects of the business.”
She says the large screen is easy to see, which helps with data auditing.
“You can see everything that’s being recorded for each animal and check it’s correct — for instance if someone has entered the wrong sex at lamb marking or there’s a heavy weight because someone’s accidentally leant on the scales. I train our staff and wool handlers to do a visual check on each screen before moving onto the next animal. All of this means I can have trust in the data collected when I’m not in the yards, and it saves an immense amount of time in editing after events, and prevents the potential loss of important data if it’s not collected correctly.”
Kirstie and Nathan have previously used the original TSi. She says the TSi2 is so much faster “it has racing colours!”.
“It is as simple to use as the TSi, however the sheer speed of data entry makes it so much more efficient — and fun! With the TSi, I would rarely use the ‘office’ function in the yards, it was faster on the PC, however now I have no hesitation in pressing the ‘office’ button.”
APS a powerful standout
Just like the first version, the TSi2 comes standard with Animal Performance Software (APS) Professional version.
“This is what makes the TSi and TSi2 so powerful in terms of using the data you collect to make decisions that impact on the productivity and profitability of your business,” Kirstie says.
“Between our stud and commercial operations, I use APS daily — be it to check how weaners are growing, printing life history reports for ram clients, drafting ewes for joining and so on.”
Feed and labour efficiencies
Kirstie says the TSi2 has had a positive impact on Avington Farm's production system.
“Our productivity is improved by being able to identify the top performers and use them in our breeding program to increase genetic gain. It also allows efficient feeding in terms of pasture allocation, and then with supplementary feeding by allowing accurate estimates of intake requirements based on live weight and growth.
“Because we can weigh animals faster, we’re more labour efficient — which then gives the incentive to weigh more often, which increases accuracy.”
And that’s important because while Avington Farm has 12,500 head of Merinos now (and has joined 3,200 ewes this year), recent property acquisitions and taking on lease country has led to a rapid flock-size increase, and in the next three years it’s aiming to run 20,000 head.
“We’re running the ultrafine and superfine enterprises over three properties, so any labour or efficiency improvements are vital with such large numbers — as is data accuracy. The TSi2 gives us all three of those.”
Kirstie says running sheep, they haven’t used the wi-fi button yet but she sees how it would be more efficient for feedlots and similar operations. “Even the livestock carriers could contract the job to clients they are carting stock for.”
As far as support goes, Kirstie says Gallagher’s technical support is “always literally a phone call away”.
“They’re very easy to talk to about the software. The markets we sell into are constantly changing, and as such, so is the information we need to collect and recall.”