With the recent announcements regarding the introduction of mandatory electronic ID for Victorian sheep, many producers are now considering what it might do for them. Make no mistake, for some of you the opportunities are limited. While for others, they will be plentiful.
For this reason it is critical that you properly assess your equipment needs prior to jumping into buying eID equipment. The Victorian government has announced funding for producers of up to $3000 for the purchase of eID readers and software. This is on a dollar for dollar basis, where if you spend up to $6000, you will get half of it back.
Just because you can, though, doesn’t mean you should. Spending money is still spending money, even if someone is paying for half. The following is a very brief guide to your assessment of eID needs.
What is your enterprise or breeding objective?
If you don’t know what your objective is, then stop right now. You really don’t know what you are trying to achieve, and any purchases are 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 6 months of age, and 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, and neither is “I want to cut more wool”. 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. From there, you can look at each component and decide whether eID has a role to play or not. If it does, record the equipment required. Work out how often you will use it, and whether you need to actually own the equipment or not.
For some people, you might get to the end of this process and decide that you won’t get much out of using eID on your property, and that you have other things to focus on. That is a good result! You aren’t spending money, but you do have the peace of mind that the industry is on the road to a better place with a more robust traceability system, and new technologies on the way for the supply chain as a whole.
What can I do with eID without buying equipment?
This should be everyone’s first question, not their last. The following are all things that can be done without owning equipment –
Recording information at lamb marking –
When you order your tags they will be supplied with a visual tag number printed on them. These are then matched in what is called a “bucket file” to the 16 digit electronic number that the tag producers when read by a reader.
All you need to do is record the sequence of tags that you put into each mob, and you can capture vast amounts of data for future use.For instance – tag 233 – 856 were put into twin born lambs, sired by (insert stud name here) rams.This is particularly useful in self replacing flocks of any kind where reproduction is important.Too often twin born lambs are culled at classing because they don’t “look” right. A quick read of the tag with an eID reader would solve that problem, by telling you whether it was born as a twin or not along with any other information you collected.
Collecting this type of information doesn’t require equipment, but using it later on does, so it might be worth buying a reader capable of allowing you to do that while there is funding available. Otherwise you can wait until you need to use the data, and buy one then, or even better, just borrow one from someone.After all you won’t be needing it often for this type of work.
Recording ewe pregnancy scanning data –
With a number of pregnancy scanners now set up with equipment, it is possible to get them to read the eID tags of your ewes and record their pregnancy status against them. A word of warning though, only send mobs of ewes that all (or as close as possible to all of them) have eID tags, as mixed mobs (some with eID and some without) will make them grumpy as it slows down the process.
Pretty much any task you can think of!
Pretty much any task you can think of, now has a contractor who can do the work for you. Recording data a lamb marking, weighing lambs at lamb marking, weaning, or at any time for that matter. Fleece weighing, fleece t
sting, auto-drafting, and many more can all be done by a contractor. Seriously consider this option before running out and spending money.
What should I spend money on?
If you have gone through the process outlined above, and determined that there are components of your objectives that will benefit from collecting information using eID, then step two is to shop around. Equipment options have come a long way in the last 3-4 years, and the options will continue to grow. Make sure you speak to someone independent that can point you in the right direction for the best equipment option for your needs. Remember that at the end of the day the sales people are employed to sell you things. Your job is to make your own informed decisions.
You may have noticed that the current funding package doesn’t include Auto-drafters. You do not need an auto-drafter to use eID on your farm. They are bloody good though for fast efficient, one-person weighing operations. For the sheep enterprise that I managed, it was one of the first things I purchased. Not because of eID, but because it allowed me to weigh a lot of lambs quickly, and on my own. While someone is willing to give you money to support the purchase of an eID reader, it might at least be worth considering the potential for an auto drafter in the future, and matching the reader selection to that possibility.
What do I do next?
First, make sure your objectives are very clear in your mind, and work through the process of how eID might or might not play are role in your business. Next seek independent advice on the equipment that might best suit you. The Victorian Government have announced that there will be information sessions and other activities available for producers over the coming months. The details of these are yet to be released, but take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the technology before you spend money. Too often I speak to people about what they could or should have bought, as a better option to what they did buy.
Why should the industry be excited?
Whether you use eID on-farm or not, in my opinion you still should be excited. Sure there will be some teething issues while they implement eID technology in saleyards (let’s face it, it is a significant implementation of technology within a sector where many don’t particularly want it). What our industry needs is a very good, robust traceability system that will reduce the amount of shit that hits the fan in an exotic disease outbreak, and which helps us maintain all of the excellent work undertaken in building our export market access.
Even more exciting than all of that however is the announcement from MLA last week that they will oversee the installation of objective carcass measurement in red meat processing plants around the country. Linked with hook tracking systems and eID, this is a serious game changer. Direct feedback on lean meat yield, and objective measurement for fat on individual animals will now be possible. For too long, prime lamb producers have received little or no real feedback on their lambs because it was too difficult. Now it will be just part of the process.
The next step is meat eating quality measurement, and individual carcass grading in a true lamb MSA system. From all reports this isn’t too far off on the horizon either.
And for those of you worried about the potential for future discounts in a value based payment system… so you should be. If your lambs aren’t good enough, then you are hurting the reputation of lamb on consumer’s plates. Lamb is priced like a luxury product. It is about time it was graded and sold as one.