Gethin Jones, Llandysul
- 300 Easycare ewes
- Around half the ewes are bred pure and the remainder put to a NZ Suffolk ram
- Ewes lamb outdoors from mid-March
Gethin and Sara Jones had already identified the need to get to grips with the performance of their flock when they joined the HCC EID recording project. Farming 300 Easycare ewes on land rising to 1,000 feet means that making the most of forage and the genetics used on the farm is vital to the profitability of the business.
Committed to understanding how their ewes, lambs and rams are performing, Gethin began recording individual ewes and their performance three years ago in 2013. However, relying on pen and paper records meant that considerable time was taken up entering the records onto their software programme.
“We weigh the lambs at about 8 weeks of age when they are first handled. This tells us how the lambs are growing and whether they are on target. By using the reader to record the weights of lambs I have already saved 3 hours of my time. Normally I spend the following evening entering all the data into the software but now all I have to do is attach the reader to the computer and it’s all done.
From there I can generate reports which will give me average weights and growth rates for the groups as well as individuals. I will repeat the weighing process throughout the season so I can already see that the reader is saving me a considerable amount of time.
Despite our best efforts we also found mistakes were made when we recorded everything by hand. Sometimes the bits of paper ended up so wet we could hardly make out the numbers. The odd recording sheet had also ended up in the washing machine!”
With ewes lambing outdoors from the middle of March onwards the recording process starts before lambing. Ewes have a number sprayed on their sides so once they have lambed all that needs to be done is to enter the information into the reader and then tag and scan the lambs. The aim is to try and tag the lambs as soon after birth as possible but lambs born late in the day are recorded the following morning. “The ewes are very attentive mothers so we don’t get any issues with handling the lambs at such a young age.”
The project has made a big difference to the use of EID technology on the farm. “We had thought about purchasing a more basic reader and hand-held recorder to collect the data but this wouldn’t have allowed us to look up records when we are working with the stock. The availability of the funding to support data collection meant that we could justify the purchase of a more comprehensive reader. In turn this will significantly improve our access to the information recorded so this is a real benefit to the business.”
All ewes are recorded and yearling ewes lambing for the first time are put to a terminal sire.
“With our size of flock, every ewe needs to be producing as profitably as possible. If they perform well they are moved into the ‘pure-bred’ flock and mated to an Easycare ram to breed replacements. EID technology is helping us to identify ewes that aren't pulling their weight and remove them from the breeding programme. This means we can be quite fussy about what stock are used to breed the next generation without the cost of having to cull young animals from the flock.
Poorer performing ewes are mated to the terminal sire. They are given a little bit of an easier time with access to better grazing which means that we get a good level of performance across the entire flock. We are pleased with the performance of the pure-bred Easycare ewes and their lambs but we are always looking to improve growth rates. By recording we can get a better understanding of any changes in management required can also use the information to identify the role of performance recorded rams in the system and the difference they make to profitability.”
2015 will be the first year that the selection criterion can be evaluated in any detail. Yearling ewes lambing this year had their weaning weights recorded as lambs. We can therefore see if better reared ewe lambs are also better performing mothers.