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Beyond the Bale : June 2016
ON FARM 33 There is a growing use of automation and technology on wool-growing properties to help improve production and reduce labour costs. For woolgrower Ben Watts from Molong in NSW, the introduction of ‘walk over weighing’ on operations he runs has enabled better and more regular assessment of his breeding stock, and consequently increased the productivity of his business. “Our biggest business driver is the condition of our ewes, and their performance is essentially driven by nutrition,” Ben said in a presentation to the recent International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) Congress in Sydney. “Ewe bodyweights can change quite quickly, before we can even visually see a change. So we wanted to be able to obtain live data on each individual sheep, and use that data to help us improve their production, their health, and our profitability.” Walk over weighing coupled with electronic identification has worked well for his business by automatically capturing a sheep’s ID tag and body weight as it walks through a race and over an electronic weighing platform, with incentives such as feed or supplement such as salt, on the other side. The sheep quickly become conditioned to walk through and weigh themselves. Ben says the largest mob size where walk over weighing is highly effective for him is 1,250 ewes. The ewes are condition scored against their weight prior to going into the pasture, so walk over weighing works on individual body weight from known points. USEFUL APPLICATIONS TO INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY By putting the data through a software program, Ben can very quickly be live monitoring individual ewe weights. “The key benefit of walk over weighing is that it helps us check the condition of our ewes during lambing, and identify and treat any ewes that need supplementary feed. We fit an auto-drafter to the weighing platform so the ewes with low weight can be automatically drafted out for supplementary feeding. This results in our ewes having a more even body score, so their wool production (and tensile strength) and fertility can be optimised, along with the successful rearing of twin lambs.” Ben said there are other uses for walk over weighing in the paddock. “Later in the year when the ewes are rearing their lambs, we have a more simple set-up to record which lambs are pairing with which ewes and therefore their parentage. This enables us to identify the more productive ewes without significant labour force requirements, which from a commercial woolgrowers’ perspective is more than acceptable. “We also use walk over weighing to monitor each of our lambs and identify if their growth rates are not dropping off, which could indicate we might have misjudged the amount of feed in our pastures. “Walk over weighing is also the best live indicator of animal health because, as we all know, when we feel ill we stop eating and drinking, and lose weight. The set-up alerts us to a drop in an animal’s weight, which could be caused by sickness from the likes of flystrike or intestinal worms, and enables us to address the animal’s illness in a very timely manner.” COST AND LABOUR SAVINGS Because walk over weighing in the paddock is automated, there is no requirement for a staff member to be out in the paddock doing the weighing. The sheep do all the recording themselves. It is therefore a very efficient and cost effective system. Traditionally, to weigh sheep, staff would have to bring them in, visually read each tag, and weigh them individually – which Ben said would cost 22c-35c per record – and because it would take a lot of time, weighing wouldn’t happen very often. “However now, with walk over weighing in the paddock, with the sheep effectively doing the weighing for us, we can now take weekly records (which might be made up of 10-15 records taken throughout the week) at a cost of under 5c per head per week. “It has improved the way we look at our ewes, we have a clearer picture of what’s going on, so we don’t have to be manually weighing at the yards and we can spend our time on other important jobs.” MORE INFORMATION Ben Watts firstname.lastname@example.org 0428 668 706 Woolgrower Ben Watts from Molong in NSW presenting on the topic of farm automation to the audience at the International Wool Textile Organisation Congress in Sydney in April. WALK OVER WEIGHING Automatic walk over weighing technology in the paddock is a cost effective and efficient way of monitoring live-weight of breeding stock to help ensure ewes are in good condition during lambing. It’s also useful for identifying the most productive ewes, and monitoring general animal health.
In the Shops - September 2016