“The TagFaster tags have pins which are colour coded and this changes each year which makes identifying the ewe’s age and then tag replacement easier”
Three different types of electronic ear tags from Roxan are being used at Lemmington Hill Head, Edlingham, near Alnwick to help manage improvements to all-round productivity and profitability of the sheep enterprise.
James and his father Tony, as part of an improvement programme for their traditional stratified flock to secure the farm’s long-term future, have for the last two seasons been using Aberfield rams - bred for their maternal traits by sheep technology specialist, Innovis, a spin-out company from Aberystwyth University.
Now the Drummonds have become a breed partner with Innovis, breeding Aberfield rams from embryos taken from the highest performing ewes at Aberystwyth - 420 were born this spring.
Key to the success of the Innovis breeding programme and the progress in the flock at the 560 acre Lemmington Hill Head is keeping accurate records and this is being achieved by electronic tagging and identification which is then computer recorded.
From January 1 this year (2015), all lambs going for slaughter need an electronic tag. Sheep within the historic flock – sheep that have been non-electronically tagged – will also have to have all their individual numbers on the movements recording form. They will have to be fully electronically tagged and individually recorded.
This spring, along with the embryo recipients, 1,300 ewes were lambed, including 250 commercial ewe lambs.
Originally, the flock comprised of North Country Cheviots crossed with the Border Leicester, producing Scottish Half Breds which were then put to the Suffolk with these crossed with pedigree home-bred Texel rams. These will now continue to be crossed with Aberfield rams.
“Our ideal is to have a 70-72kg ewe with a rearing percentage of 170-175 from a forage based system. Also critical is maternal ability, lamb vigour and lambing ease,” said James, a Nuffield Scholar who has travelled worldwide to study optimising ewe performance for a productive sheep enterprise and high quality finished lamb.
He is also a recent National Sheep Association (NSA) Next Generation Ambassador and he is currently carrying out a Moredun Foundation scholarship into reducing anthelmintic use in sheep production.
The recipient ewes, which are heavily recorded for Innovis, have an electronic Rubba1 and a visual Rubba2 flag tag fitted accurately with single pliers. Under the ram breeding programme, it is important that electronic tags, especially, are retained and as few tags as possible are lost.
The commercial flock recording system is more simple, linking the lamb’s data with the mother’s. Roxan’s Tagfaster automatic gun has been used for five years and data had been recorded over this time.
“We are recording information on faecal egg counts and identifying sheep with the best worm resistance to help reduce risk of anthelmintic resistance,” he added.
Birth weights, inturned eyelids, skin and cover are also being monitored and added to the individual sheep’s data.
“To improve the flock we want to cull the bottom out, although we are always wanting to breed for longevity. We monitor the ewes’ body condition throughout the year and look at lifetime efficiency and productivity,” added James.
“Retention and - importantly - the readability of the tags as the sheep mature is crucial to the system.”
James acknowledges that it is inevitable that sheep will lose ear tags. The Roxan tags have pins which are colour coded and this changes each year which makes identifying the ewe’s age and then tag replacement easier.
All lambs are tagged after birth, either with a single EID tag if they are destined for slaughter and ewe lambs which will possibly be selected for replacements get TagFaster TWIN tags which includes a management tag in the same application.
Reported by Jennifer MacKenzie.