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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

E-sheep Innovation and Co-operation a Winning Combination

Posted by Bestprac on Feb 06 2012

By Liz Guerin
Blackall and Benlidi Bestprac Group look at Electronic sheep management technology.

 

In 2009, the Blackall and Benlidi Bestprac Group won the Central Western Innovation Award for their project, E-sheep, which looked at electronic sheep management technology, such as tagging, weighing, scanning and micron testing. Twelve months on, group members who trialled the technology have found the machinery enough of a benefit to buy out the lease. Now collectively owned, group members have taken on certain aspects on their own properties.

Having rebuilt their sheep flock after totally destocking due to drought in 2003, Jack and Rhonda Banks have utilised the pregnancy scanning aspect of E-sheep in an effort to increase fertility. Over the last four years they have regularly pregnancy scanned their sheep, although this is their first year with electronic tags.

“Up until now we’ve found it difficult to record fertility information” Jack said. “We like to give every ewe a second chance – if she’s young and empty, we don’t sell her immediately, but if that ewe goes 2 years without falling pregnant then we look at getting rid of her. That information can be easily achieved with the electronic tag system.”

Drafting at Jank and Rhonda Banks proprtyThe Banks’ have electronically tagged their 2 tooth ewes and plan to record them from there on. Jack said that the proof of the electronic tags will be in next year’s scanning and the systems’ ability to marry up the data sets.

“So far the biggest benefit is not having to write down the information – it’s recorded automatically” he said. “We’re not the smartest computer operators around, and the system is simple and that’s great!”

Another function that the Banks’ have found incredibly beneficial has been the automatic weighing feature.

“We don’t e-tag wethers or sale sheep but we use the auto drafting according to weight range” Jack said. “We’ve been using that for three years now and giving it a good work out and finding it excellent.”

Peter and Lorna Evans of Woodbine say that for their business, the greatest benefit has been being able to identify individual sheep.

“We’ve been identifying and following cattle individually for years, whereas the sheep were just a mob” said Peter. “The e-tag system allows you to match up data such as pregnancy, fleece weight, body weight, and we can give each sheep an index with all data integrating to the one number. In the old days with a pencil and paper you just couldn’t do it – it would take forever.”

The Evans’ say that the machinery allowed them to value add and maximise opportunities by moving into prime lambs.

“We now know what our lamb weights are” said Peter. “We used to sell the top ones off and put the bottom end into the feedlot – whereas now, we can set a weight range and the machine will draft them for us. It has made marketing a lot easier and we get much better prices.”

Peter says that their business has predominately been using the fleece and body weight capabilities of the technology.

“The idea is to get a good heavy lamb and still have good wool quality” he said. “We compromise a bit on both but this allows us to keep our wool half decent and hopefully get a better, bigger lamb.”

Whilst not saving time, Peter said that the advantage of the e-tag system is its ability to enable you to do more in the same amount of time.

“We weighed a lot of sheep that normally we would never have wanted to weigh off the board, doing 400 an hour quite easily” said Peter. “In terms of fleece weighing, in the old pencil and a bit of card days it was easy enough to make mistakes by transposing numbers or writing the wrong number down but this system is so accurate and we could easily keep up with 5 shearers doing 900 per day and not interfere with their speed one little bit.”

With the current strong prices for sheep, both Jack and Peter admit that the need for collecting data on individual sheep is not as high a priority as it was a few years ago.

“Right now, all sheep are valuable so I don’t need to get the really good ones out” Peter said. “When we first started the good ones were selling well and the bad ones were hard to give away – whereas now, everything’s good. Once things tighten up in sheep, the data we have will become important we’ll need to know the good and the bad ones again.”

Both Jack and Peter say that the groups’ exposure to the technology has been great, winning the Innovation Award was a highlight, and now, having the E-sheep equipment co-operatively owned within the district is a huge asset. In addition it is mounted on a trailer which enables it to be shared between properties easily.

“For us, there is every indication e-tagging will be a positive addition to our business but we won’t know for a few years the extent of benefits – but certainly having the machinery co-operatively owned and locally based, we have the advantage of having the time to play” said Jack.

Peter Evans is similarly positive.

“The project will have long term benefits as we now know how to use the technology to our best advantage in the future” said Peter. “We are all using it for different purposes and for different reasons and our businesses are diverse enough that we are all doing things at different times so it works out well.”

The e-tagging system is featured in the Australian Pastoral Property Innovation Manual (page 52 -53). 

 

Last changed: Feb 07 2012

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