Whether you and your team are at the cutting edge of tech development, pushing the boundaries of what you can achieve on your farm, or you prefer to wait for new tools to prove themselves before jumping on board, the team at NZM wants to work with you to get the best out of what technology has to offer.
And the technology itself is just the start - it is the almost infinite potential of what can be achieved once it starts getting applied in real farming situations that it gets truly exciting.
NZM's three-year collaborative Sensing Wellbeing project aims to utilise smart-sensor technology to remotely monitor sheep behaviour, health and wellbeing. While the trials are only in the early stages at the moment, the longer-term aim is to monitor animal welfare in real-time across an extensive farming situation.
If successful, Sensing Wellbeing will deliver a whole new level of understanding about sheep behaviour, and will make it possible to detect animal welfare issues (such as misadventure, injury or illness) earlier than is usually possible in extensive production systems.
The first phase of the project is focused on identifying reliable (and measurable) behavioural patterns to determine the wellbeing of sheep. The next stage involves developing and trialling monitoring systems with the potential to be scalable in extensive sheep production systems.
The on-farm work is supported by consumer insights research that highlights the animal health and welfare issues that matter to consumers.
Making the invisible visible with EID and indvidual animal management
While a lot can be achieved by managing sheep at the mob level, electronic identification (EID) allows you to go further – tracking and managing sheep at the individual level – allowing you to identify the best and worst performers.
It can give you visibility into the lifetime productivity of individual sheep, providing valuable information for making decisions across your sheep farming enterprise. It is also surprisingly simple to get started and integrate into your current farm system.
Click on the image for a fact sheet on getting started with EID (or contact the NZM Production Science team for a hard copy).
EID at Bog Roy and Omarama Stations
David Anderson (Bog Roy Station) and Richard Subtil (Omarama Station) are embracing EID technology as a tool to help them see what used to be invisible in their commercial ewe flocks. They shared their experiences with other growers at a workshop at Bog Roy Station in December 2016. The take-home messages were to 'partner up with a like-minded neighbour' and 'keep it simple' with a single age group for a start.
In both their farming enterprises, they could see that lifting the overall productivity of their Merino ewes was an opportunity to improve their profitability. However, they lacked the data to accurately identify the 'passengers' (bottom 25% of the flock) and the elite individuals who were outperforming the rest (top 25% of the flock). With EID and consistent data collection throughout each ewe's lifetime, they are now armed with the information to identify both the 'passengers' and the elites.
Each year, they EID tag their ewe replacements. Then, at key times during the ewe's lifetime, they track her performance. Liveweights and scanning data were the first step, with fleece weights being added to give a balanced picture of each ewe's contribution to profitability. Decisions about each ewe are now made on accumulated individual data; the best animals are kept to contribute to the next generation, while the least productive animals are culled. For more details about the impact of using EID at Omarama Station, click here.
Nuffield Scholarship Report - Individual Animal Management
As part of Hannah Marriott's Nuffield Scholarship in 2014, she visited NZM and several of our growers to find out more about the potential for technology like EID to enable more profitable farming through more effective breeding selection and management decisions. You can check out the Executive Summary and Recommendations below - or click here for the full report.
- The need to combine on-farm productivity gains with specifications of the end product is more important than ever as the demand for consistently safe, high quality and ethically-grown food increases. Productivity gains on farm are a mainstream way to increase profit under a largely commodity-driven pricing structure. However, in the absence of adequate and accurate product feedback, productivity gains alone could limit the ability to produce product to market specification. Linking feedback on the products being produced in the sheep industry (lamb, wool and sheep meat) back to production and reproduction is very important. Current technology such as electronic identification (EID) can facilitate such linkages in a simple, practical and cost effective way.
- A focus on the full range of animal performance data - rather than the average - through Individual Animal Management (IAM) allows for more accurate identification of superior and inferior stock. This information can be used to make precise decisions around genetics and nutrition. For example, the top 25% of ewes can be more than twice as efficient as the bottom 25% of ewes, under identical management. Therefore, having the ability to identify the animals that fall below the average on an economic measure allows for greater gains through more precise selection pressure.
- Matching a ewe to her progeny, using EID, will enable a weaned litter weight to be correlated to her. Currently Pedigree Match Maker (PMM) is the most efficient commercially available tool for matching ewe and lamb. Work is being done on creating a sensor tag which will remotely link ewe and lamb through near field technology. This will be an area that will continue to evolve.
- A ewe efficiency index can be calculated if the liveweight of the ewe and weaning weight of the lamb(s) is collected. This is a key profit driver, which can be optimised, and enables greater selection pressure by producing surplus replacement ewes. It also supports selection of favourable component traits including fertility, number of lambs born, lamb survival, lactation and lamb growth rate.
- Individual Animal Management in a commercial setting requires a resource commitment and must be practical. Data collection should be integrated as part of the annual management calendar to ensure greatest efficiency in time. Typical measurements that align with annual animal husbandry are pregnancy scanning, liveweight and condition score, sex of the lamb, age of the dam, lamb marking weight and weaning weight, wool cut, sire group (and their genetics) and matching ewe and lamb.
- Look at the full range in animal performance data as well as the average, and identify animals below average.
- Use a combination of visual and objective assessment to allow underperforming animals on a commercial basis to be identified and culled from the main breeding flock.
- Estimate ewe efficiency by linking ewe and progeny, recording weight of lambs at weaning and correlating this to the ewe liveweight. Further work needs to be done on remotely linking ewes and lambs to identify the most productive ewes.
- Streamline data collection to only include what is needed as defined by the KPIs of the business. Use this information to link product feedback with on-farm production.
- Implement the use of ASBVs when introducing genetics into the flock and target areas most limiting profitability.
- Add carcass traits to the selection criteria in Merino breeding systems to optimise returns from meat and wool.