Should I invest in sheep eID?

12 May 2017

To help answer this question, industry consultant Nathan Scott has put together this list of five things to consider when assessing your eID needs.

1. What is your enterprise or breeding objective?

If you don’t know what your objective is, then stop right now because you really don’t know what you are trying to achieve, and any purchases will be based more on luck than knowledge. Your objective should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time bound).

An example would be:

“I want to consistently mark 145% lambs, turning lambs off at 22kg carcass weight, with all lambs sold by six months of age, while maintaining mature ewe reference weights below 65kg and average annual stocking rate of 16 DSE/ha.  I want to achieve this by the end of 2019.

Now that is an objective.  “I want to mark more lambs” is not. As soon as you have an objective, you can set to work breaking it down into measurable factors or traits to track your progress or apply selection pressure.

2. Can I collect data without buying special equipment?

This should be one of your first questions, not your last. Here are examples of data that can be recorded without owning equipment:

  • Reproductive status

With a number of pregnancy scanners now set up with the right equipment, it is possible for them to record pregnancy status against eID tags.

  • Heritage

When you order your tags they will be supplied with a visual tag number printed on them. This is matched to the electronic number that the tag carries in a 'bucket file'.

All you need to do is record the visual number sequence of tags that you use with each mob, and you can capture vast amounts of data for future use. For example: Tags 233-856 were put into twin born lambs sired by (name of stud) rams. This is particularly useful in self replacing flocks. Too often twin born lambs are culled at classing because they don’t 'look right'. Because the visual number is matched up to the electronic tag in the 'bucket file', we can convert the information to an electronic format, and then use that data with an eID reader. A quick read of the tag at any stage in that animal’s life would reveal whether it was born as a twin, or who the father was. This is simple but effective data collection before you buy any eID equipment.

3. Is there someone else who can do this job for me?

Pretty much any task you can think of can be contracted out.  Recording data at lamb marking, weighing lambs at marking or weaning or at any time for that matter can be carried out by a contractor.

4. What equipment do I need?

Once you know what you need to record, then work out what equipment you need, how often you will use it and wether you need to own it, hire it or use a contractor.

You might get to the end of this process and decide that you won’t get much out of using eID because you have other things to focus on. That is a good result.

5. Where will I get the most bang for my buck?

Firstly, fully assess the economic return for your business of investment in equipment and then set a budget. Then, seek  independent advice on the equipment that might best suit you. Too often I speak to people about what they could or should have bought.

Shop around. Equipment has come a long way in the past three to four years and the options will continue to grow.  Remember, at the end of the day, the sales people are employed to sell you things, and they will sell you whatever THEY think is best for you. Your job is to make your own informed decisions.

You do not need an auto-drafter to use eID on your farm.  However, they are good for efficient one-person weighing operations. If you go ahead with the purchase of an eID reader, consider the potential for an auto drafter in the future and matchthe reader selection to that possibility.

You can spend as much or as little as you like, but that spend should always be based upon your breeding or enterprise objective, and not just the lure of fancy toys. 

Resources to help the decision making process

Making More From Sheep  Module 1 - Plan for Success

There are a range of resources available from Agriculture Victoria here.

More information

Check out Nathan's presentation on planning sheep eID investments.

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