Blakes bank on precision focus

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Precision technology has found a home among the flock at the Blake family's Katanning farm, where electronic eartags are being used to improve efficiencies in a Dohne sheep stud.

The Blakes have been using autosteer and autoswitching on their boom for a while but when the time came to invest more heavily in precision technology, Kallum Blake said they decided to turn the precision focus to stock instead of crop.

With his parents, Terry and Chris, Kallum runs 1200 commercial ewes as well as a stud flock of 300.

He said improved sheep prices meant gaining 10 per cent improvement in efficiency was more important than ever, particularly because input costs kept climbing.

For the past two years the Blakes have been using electronic eartags combined with Pedigree MatchMaker in their stud flock.

A dam is fenced off, an eartag reading panel attached to the raceway and the program automatically matches offspring with mothers by determining which lamb follows which ewe through the race the greatest number of times.

"The big benefit in the stud flock is getting an Australian Sheep Breeding Value (ASBV) with a full pedigree," Kallum said.

"If you're just using sire referencing you can single sire mate and get feedback but with this you can actually get data and know which ewes are performing well and which rams are performing well."

Kallum believes the real benefit of electronic tags and scales is in the commercial flock. He said part of the plan was to tag all of the commercial sheep and move towards individual animal management rather than flock management.

They hope to achieve this in the next 12 months, although first the Blakes want to upgrade their equipment so the electronic scales automatically record weights to the computer.

"In a commercial arrangement with a prime lamb flock you'd be bringing them in regularly to peel off ones for market," Kallum said.

"With the bottom end of the flock you tend to get to the end of the period of time when you would get rid of them and you will just cut your losses and sell them.

"But you might do that at the start when you're weighing and these have all put on 100g a day but others have put on only 10g or 20g a day.

"They are clearly not gaining weight and probably eating as much as the rest so you'd sell them earlier."

Using the Pedigree MatchMaker in the commercial flock would also make it easier to find ewes in the commercial flock which are outperforming others.

"With the commercial flock you can actually go through and grade them to get to the point where you can bring sheep from your commercial flock into your stud flock to build up numbers," Kallum said.

"With the Pedigree Matchmaker we can mother up even the commercial flock, do some selection on that and get ASBVs out of a commercial set up.

"There's brilliant sheep in everybody's flock, it's just a matter of finding them. If we're going to keep on top of the game and ahead of the rest we've got to find those ones."

Kallum said they would also like to move towards an autodraft system and increase the stud ewes to 500.

"The big benefit of going to electronic tags in a commercial flock is the autodraft system," he said.

"Because the data is easier to capture and record you'll actually bother to do it and it saves time. You might not be worried about doing sheep work - you might even enjoy it."

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails