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Researching the sheep WOW factor…

Posted by Bestprac on Feb 06 2012

A Sheep CRC research trial is underway to establish the fit of ‘Mob-based Walk Over Weighing’ technology

 

Imagine being able to get a daily reading on sheep weight gains (or losses) with just a few button clicks and kicking the recreational mustering habit?

A Sheep CRC research trial is underway to establish the fit of ‘Mob-based Walk Over Weighing’ technology into a sheep enterprise and quantify the economic benefit of using MWOW as an aid to ewe and weaner management.

Working towards a Master of Science degree, and funded by the Sheep CRC, the trial is being managed by the Holmes & Sackett agricultural consultant, David Brown, based in Wagga Wagga.

“Mob-based walk-over weighing (MWOW) captures liveweight, date and time when an animal walks over the instrument.


a typical MWOW set-up“We see the information being used to provide data on mob liveweight averages and distributions over time. This will help farmers utilise their greatest asset, their land, as effectively as possible”.

“Obviously, there are also time and labour saving advantages as MWOW can provide an easily-accessed, every- and any-day barometer of actual in-paddock mob liveweights.” 

The trial, which began in July 2010 and concludes by March 2012, is set-up in three ewe flocks in the NSW Riverina; on each farm, there is a ‘treatment’ and ‘control’ flock with 200 to 500 sheep in each.

The ‘controls’ are being managed according to traditional visual appraisal of stock and pasture, while the ‘treatments’ are being managed using MWOW liveweight data. All input costs (e.g. labour and supplementary feeding) and all production parameters, (conception rates, weaning percentages, kilograms of wool per ha) are being recorded. The outcomes will be compared across the two flocks, and against a budget, to determine benefits of MWOW.

David Brown says the research will try to link the weights recorded to condition scores so that the science from the Lifetime Wool program research can be incorporated easily into management decision making. Lifetime Wool demonstrated that managing ewes according to predetermined condition score (CS) profiles can alter reproductive performance and improve fleece value of progeny. An objective and readily accessible source of information about the state of the flock at any given time would help implement this science.

“The science tells us that between CS 1.5 and 4.5 there is an average linear increase of 20 lambs born per 100 ewes for each additional CS. If the research finds a correlation between mob average CS and liveweight, knowing the change in average weight of the mob may enable the farmer to alter management to achieve the most profitable outcome from that point in time.”

“The secret here is not in performance per head, but performance per hectare. A farmer who knows what the optimal weights of his ewes need to be to maximise lambs per hectare can adjust stocking rates to suit, based on the feedback the MWOW data is given to him or her.

“Once the farmer has an optimal stocking rate, MWOW will act as a management tool to provide objective data. The farmer may use this to make timely and accurate management decisions, such as when to drench and rotate mobs, to ensure that the target weights are being met”.

“The project is proceeding well, and considering most grazing businesses these days have weighing equipment, I’d say it’s looking pretty positive.”

He says there are areas that need to be resolved if MWOW is to work. One is the variation in frame score – it can confound the measurements gained from the MWOW, and the other is farmer knowledge – having timely, accurate information is useless unless it is interpreted correctly and acted upon.

“We’re working on how to get around these aspects. For frames scores, it should be possible to develop a 3-way ‘matrix’ or profile of frame-score, condition score and liveweight to help determine what weights the ewes need to be at certain times in the year.

“For the farmer’s knowledge, education is the best possible solution. Understanding how the change in live weight of a ewe will influence productive performance will help farmers interpret MWOW data and make profitable decisions.”

There are other benefits that will be assessed in the trial, including:

  • a peace-of-mind factor that stocking rates are set to achieve liveweights that will result in maximum production per hectare
  • overcoming the ‘masking effect’ of wool on visually assessing short term changes in liveweight – which can be critical to ewe performance when condition scores drops below 2.5.

Fast facts:

  • The MWOW is a self-contained, small aluminium platform (1.6m long x 30cm wide) that can be adjusted for different sheep sizes to ensure they pass through in single file one at-a-time. Other components are a Tru-Test indicator, load cells, a solar-cell and a battery. Total costs are ~$6,000
  • The platform is positioned so that sheep cross over it to reach a water source or an attractant – e.g. a salt and molasses lick. It does not work if sheep are forced over the platform
  • Each sheep’s weight is recorded with the date and time, the data can be downloaded into a laptop in the paddock

Last changed: Feb 07 2012

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