As a sheep farmer, lambing is your busiest time of year. Taking care to capture the right data during lambing can improve the efficiency and productivity of your business, and that can lead to enhanced profits. In this article, we explain how.
What are the benefits of recording data during lambing?
When your time is already thin, the last thing you want is additional items on your to-do list, especially at lambing season. However, there are significant benefits that can be derived from gathering the right data from your flock at this crucial time of the season.
It’s hugely informative
You have heard the saying that knowledge is power. Gathering data is a means of acquiring insight into your flock regarding its health, nutrition and fertility. The more data you gather, the more insight you have, and the easier it becomes to identify trends. Discussing your records with a vet of livestock consultant can also help identify any potential issues, allowing you to carry out any necessary remedial action much earlier on.
Keep your flock healthy and enhance operating profits
Tracking data makes it easy to assess the health and wellbeing of your flock. As a sheep farmer that supplies the food chain, you are well accustomed to paying close attention to the medications you use.
Additional data can help identify any recurrent health issues that may be harming your profits. For example, if farmers are noticing losses from diseases such as toxoplasmosis, they can work quickly to protect their replacement ewes and lambs with vaccinations. In turn, this may help to improve the reoccurrence of particular diseases.
With comprehensive data on ewes and their lambs, farmers can also better understand how much feed each newly-expectant ewe will need for their lambs to be healthy—depending if they are expecting triplets or twins.
Find ways to improve efficiency and performance
Sheep farmers are highly focused on finding ways to drive flock efficiency and productivity. That includes identifying poorly performing ewes and low fertility rams. While gathering data, you can uncover further insight into how factors such as ewe weight, BCS, nutrition and health status impact fertility and lamb productivity.
What should you measure?
So, what specific things should you be recording? Here are some metrics to consider monitoring.
Measuring losses is an important step when it comes to improving your lamb loss rate. Farmers could use a notebook or a mobile phone to adequately record lambs born alive or dead, including if lambs are lost when a pregnant ewe dies. But it all starts with scanning.
With a known total of scanned lambs, the first step is to compare performance with industry benchmarks and then set a target for lambs reared. Remember that some losses are inevitable. Average lamb losses from scanning to sale are estimated at around 15-20%. Trying to bring your losses as low as possible is key.
Ewe losses and cause of death
The loss of ewes is another important metric to track. Identifying ewe loss of 3% or more may suggest an underlying health problem on your farm. Farmers can work with this data and the advice of their veterinarian to understand reasons for cause of death and establish future actions.
BCS of ewes at lambing
When you gather data on each ewe’s body condition score at lambing, you can determine whether there is a relationship between sub-optimal BCS and lamb losses. Likewise, you can identify how optimal BCS can positively impact lamb productivity.
Tracking daily live weight gain provides a consistent metric for monitoring the development of your lambs. It can be useful to link this metric to any changes in nutrition or treatments to see how they affect productivity. It also allows you to see which rams are producing the best performing lambs.
You already keep careful records on treatments that are administered to your flock. Linking that to ewe fertility or the DLWG of your lambs can reveal whether certain treatments are having negative impacts on the productivity of your flock. If so, you may be able to discuss alternatives with your veterinarian.
Nutritional choices in farming often straddle a tightrope between cost and productivity gains. Measuring the impact of nutritional changes or the addition of supplements on ewe fertility and lamb growth can help you make smart and informed decisions next season.
Gathering data will also help you to find the right balance in the nutritional value that ewes are able to offer their lambs.
Individual ewe performance
There is often considerable variation in the performance of ewes within a flock. With the right data you can also work out the kilograms of lambs reared per ewe – both each lambing cycle and across each ewe’s lifetime. Over time you may be able to isolate under-performing ewes and experiment with measures to improve their fertility. Monitoring individual ewe performance can also help you pick out genetic factors that influence the birth of twins or triplets.
Find a simple way of recording data
The more detailed your record-keeping, the easier it will be for you to leverage insight from your data. But with lambing season being so busy, the secret is to make data gathering as efficient as possible. That could be as simple as recording audio notes on a smartphone that you add to a spreadsheet later. If you decide to record individual animals, you may opt to use handheld EID tag readers to identify each one based on the microchip in their ear tags. Depending on the reader used, farmers can store breed, sex, date of birth, BCS score and medicinal treatments received. This could save time, money and reduce human error.Whatever methods you choose to measure and record your data, the most important thing is to stay consistent. This will make it easier to compare your data across different lambing seasons and really extract the insight that can drive the future productivity of your flock and profitability of your business.
Over to you…
Are you thinking about introducing more lambing season record-keeping into your business? Or have you already been conducting record-keeping on the flock? What impact have you seen? We’d love to hear from you on Facebook and Twitter. Come and share your experiences with our online farming community.