Removing freeloaders from the flock: Individual animal performance testing

Farmers are moving away from having all their records written to having the information stored in an EID (Electronic Identification) tag in an animal’s ear. This tiny piece of plastic can store all of the animal’s history, from birth date to weaning weight, pregnant, twins, singles or dry, fleece weight and micron. But before you go running to the hills to escape, or ordering a tag for every animal on the place, let’s discuss what can be done with the information and where a good starting point would be.

First and foremost, you need to define where your livestock production currently sits and then, where you want to go.

If you talk with any of the top livestock producers, they will say that a good starting point to increasing performance is culling the bottom 25%. Collecting data on your individual animals allows objective decisions to be made on their numbers. By doing that you have not only shifted your average up, you have also been able to remove the mouths that weren’t making you money, allowing better performers to stay and giving you the option to bring in new genetics.

Some precision livestock options:

  • Sampling fleece quality at shearing and relating this back to individual animals. This allows for an in-depth knowledge on all the animals tested, making decisions about replacements objective not subjective. If you can test the wool in the shed, this information can even be taken as far as making custom bails. Technology: OFTA
  • Collecting pregnancy scanning and weaning success. e.g. In a system that is pushing for twinning, those ewes that scan with twins and are able to successfully wean those twins get a ticket to see the rams again next year. Her offspring are also more likely to produce twins too. Having information on twins and singles also allows for segregation and different nutritional strategies.
  • Collecting birth date, birth weight and growth rate on rams or bulls and their progeny. Aids culling decisions and ground truths genetics of sires, removes bias of selecting the ‘biggest’ ram or bull when the ‘average’ sized ram or bull might have a later birth date but the highest growth rate.
  • Monitoring cattle live-weight from the paddock: Walk over weigh system setup around a water point in the paddock that collects cattle live-weight and sends this information back to the grower. Aids stocking rate or supplementation decisions based on weight not eye; when weights plateau or decline decisions need to be made. Some systems have a 3-way draft on the exit which allows pre-selected animals to be drafted off based on tag numbers or weight category. This technology can fit into breeder model to give indication on calving date by looking at live weight; sudden drop in weight is a good indication that a cow has calved.

These technologies are not designed to replace your current decision making tactics, they are there to support them. These give producers the chance to make informed, objective decisions based on data


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