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Emily King
Manager, Woolgrower Education & Capacity Building
ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

PSM unveils new world of possibilities

Posted by Bestprac on Jan 23 2012

A step into the world of high-tech livestock identification and weighing is opening up a realm of new opportunities to drive sheep production for NSW Central West farmers, Ray and Belinda Haigh.
Provided by Sheep CRC


The decision to invest in Precision Sheep Management (PSM) and use electronic RFID tags has worked so well that Ray says that it paid for itself in two years, and it’s now a case of exploring what other benefits it can bring.

“In 2005, we started seriously looking at what we needed
to do to keep ahead of the cost-price squeeze – the cost of Merino ewes, inputs and operating expenses was rising rapidly. Things could not stay the way they were!

“We also decided to go hard on reproduction - it is the
single most important factor for our profitability, and there
is so much that can be done to increase outputs and reduce costs.

“We also decided that we needed to farm with more precision. In a previous job, I had learnt that if you wanted to be able to improve something, you had to be able to measure it.”

The sheep enterprise on the 2,000 hectare “Macquarie View” via Trangie was a conventional first cross breeding operation, running 2,000+ Merino ewes joined to Border Leicester rams. Some breeding cattle and dryland crops round-out the business.

Ray says from the range of options available it was clear that the Precision Sheep Management (PSM) system - electronic RFID tags, electronic tag reading and computerised record management, an auto-drafter and weighing unit – was the way to go.

“The concept of precision management is not really new in agriculture, it’s been around in cropping for quite a time. The same principles apply, it’s just that with sheep we are using it to better manage the individuals, rather than the mob.

“Besides, I’m red/green colour blind, so picking the difference between faded colour ear-tags in a dusty yard is a bit of an issue!

“All ewes and lambs now have RFID tags, which can be re-used up to 5 times depending on how they are treated. We’ve moved to start breeding some of our own replacement ewes, as well as keep older ewes on.”

Ray says animal age is no longer a dominating factor in the operation – ewes are not put on a truck anymore simply because they’ve turned 5. They are sold or kept on the basis of how they contribute to farm profit.

“We have some 8-year olds here now, and we might even keep some on for another year yet if they lamb-down well.”

The current breeding program on “Macquarie View” sees about 25% of the ewes joined to Merinos and the rest to Borders.

With the PSM system, the Haigh’s now:

  • weigh every animal regularly and quickly (up to 450/hour)
  • record key features, eg breed, sex, origin, birth year, frame and condition score, fly strike, mouth and udder soundness, and wool characteristics
  • record pregnancy scanning results
  • mix animals together for management and trials, and re-sort on any recorded characteristic as required

“The sheep get used to the auto-drafter, they learn quickly - especially when mums lead their lambs through for the first few times.

“Collecting data for the last three years has allowed us to measure key traits, which we use to evaluate management decisions and increase our selection pressure.

“For instance, we are completely confident that the culled ewes are the ones that make the least dollars.”

The Haigh’s also run a small autumn lambing group. The ewes that do not get into lamb for the spring lambing are ‘rolled over’ into the autumn lambing group for joining, and vice versa. If they fail to get into lamb at the second joining, they’re off to market. The RFID tags make it easy to track these individuals without having to isolate them into a separate group. Given the current cost of replacement ewes and good wool prices, it’s possible to give them two chances in 12 months.

“Our ewe breeding flock is divided into their pregnancy management groups at crutching time rather than at scanning time. This gives us ample time after scanning to analyse the data and decide how we will set up the groups according to what pasture and supplementary feed they need.”

Ray says the more PSM is used, the more ways he is finding it can be used to improve the business.

$ benefits

The Haigh’s were achieving 90-95% lambs weaned per ewe joined and are now aiming for 115%.

“PSM helped us to produce an extra 25 lambs (2%) in the first year and 50 lambs (4%) in the second year, which is an extra $7,500 to the bottom line. One of the extra benefits is the ability to check that every ewe is at optimal condition score across the breeding year.”

Ray says lamb weighing is now undertaken far more regularly, and easily.

“We have almost halved the labour and time spent on sheep management. We save on money and stress, and the regular weighing gives us more information to make better feeding and marketing decisions. We think there is near a $5 per lamb advantage over using our old system.

Ray adds that PSM is not something for those looking for an instant solution.

“If people don’t know how they’re going to use all the data, then there’s probably little point in investing in the PSM gear. It requires planning and commitment.”

The Sheep CRC offers on-line based information and training programs to introduce people to PSM, and outline the benefits.

Last changed: Jan 23 2012



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