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Increased returns from sheep technology

The use of technology within agriculture is growing at an incredible rate and whilst much of the focus is on the cropping industry, more and more technology is available for livestock enterprises. Technologies such as electronic identification (eID), Pedigree Matchmaker, fleece testing, specialised software and even auto drafters will help to identify the most and least productive animals within a flock. These technologies simply allow us to identify and exploit the natural variation that exists within a flock and create an opportunity to significantly improved profitability.

At the core of these technologies are electronic (or RFID) tags, which provide an efficient and fast method of identifying and recording information against individual animals. With this base, technologies such as Pedigree Matchmaker, fleece testing and weighing equipment can be utilised to put selection pressure on key profit drivers such as reproductive efficiency, lamb survival, fleece diameter, fleece weight, growth rates and importantly profit per hectare.

The most important aspect to consider when looking to invest in livestock technologies, is, which will provide the greatest return on investment. The technology you implement on farm should aim to improve your key profit driver(s); for most producers these will include fleece return and lamb income.

Fleece testing of individual animals is not new and many studs have been using this technology for years, however electronic tags have now made this operation feasible for many commercial producers. This strategy is most commonly used as a selection tool for replacement animals after the first cull has been conducted on structural and visual traits. The individual fleece micron and weight from hoggets can be used to easily create a dollar return per head to cull the poorest 10-20% of animals. This activity alone has been shown to pay for the technology within 1-2 years without accounting for the long term gains that will be achieved through improved fleece micron and weight across the flock.

Improving the returns from lamb sales is also a key profit driver of both Merino and crossbred flocks. In the past, measuring lamb return from each ewe was very difficult due to the impracticalities of identifying which lambs belong to which ewes. The use of electronic tags and Pedigree Matchmaker has now provided a far more manageable way of identifying the maternal pedigree of lambs. With this information it is easy to identify which ewes have reared twins, singles or none at all; it could even show which ewes were scanned with multiple lambs and only reared one. If this is combined with a weaning weight it can be taken a step further to show how many kg of lamb each ewe weaned and a dollar return can be calculated for each ewe.

Many of these technologies are getting cheaper as more producers use them. If you are interested implementing some of these technologies at your place, discuss the options with your livestock advisor as there are many ways that don’t require a large investment of time or money.

Don’t forget that the greatest return from these technologies will only be achieved when the base nutrition, health and performance of the flock is managed properly. Good fertility and survival rates allow for a high number of lambs upon which selection decisions can be made.

Details: Hamish Dickson, Livestock Consultant, AgriPartner Consulting. P: 0427 446 499, E: hamish@agripartner.com.au

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