INVESTING in technology such as electronic ear tags and a ClipEx mobile sheep handler is helping to improve the Larwood family's Merino flock at Buckleboo on the upper Eyre Peninsula.
Shannan and Megan Larwood - who recently welcomed eight-week-old son Alfie - farm in partnership with Shannan's parents Phillip and Cheryl Larwood, running an 850-ewe Merino flock for wool and lamb production, as well as growing wheat, barley and feed crops like oats, medic pastures or vetch.
In the past 18 months Shannan has introduced electronic ear tags and a mobile sheep handler, with automatic capability, saying the investment has already paid for itself through time saved, less handling and stress on both sheep and farmer, and the ability to more easily track objective measurements like bodyweight and staple length.
Shannan said he was using these measurements to make classing decisions and the flock had already improved immeasurably.
"Last year's ewe lambs got the first lot of electronic tags so they're hoggets now and we classed them the other day," he said.
"Their bodyweight was recorded and we also uploaded their staple length and class - top grade, flock standard and cull - onto the work database and that information was also saved on the handler's indicator.
"That information is lifetime data so the next time the sheep comes through the handler that data will be available to view.
"We keep track of staple length to achieve the optimum length and enable two shearings a year and class to keep track of better ewes from seconds and culls.
"We've also introduced a fleece-weighing table that will record the weight of each individual sheep's fleece onto their tag number."
The Larwoods also conduct a visual class before that process and Shannan said that process was becoming more difficult, underlining flock improvement since the renewed focus on objective measurements.
"If I'm going to have a ewe, I might as well have a productive ewe," he said.
"We'll be able to put that data through the computer and eliminate sheep based on our breeding objectives."
While taking objective measurements to meet flock aims - like 20 micron wool for their main flock - has been important, Shannan said the time and physical effort saved by the handler and tags has perhaps been the biggest benefit to their enterprise.
"I think the handler has already paid for itself mainly in the manual effort and time it saves us," he said.
"We've vaccinated 350 sheep in an hour using the handler, compared to three hours in the past when doing it manually.
"We can push the sheep up into a pre-catch function which clamps the sheep through an air compressor system.
"It has as a tilt function for side sampling, crutching, has a head flap to access the head for drenching, needling and tagging.
"The handler then releases back to the upright position, then has a panel reader which reads each sheep's electronic tag and gives you the sheep's history.
"You can add to the history and if you have a draft setup in your indicator it will run the draft automatically."
Shannan said one person could visually class while another was measuring staple length and another was recording weight and entering class, with the sheep released within 15 to 20 seconds.
Larwoods reach wool targets
THE Larwood family own 1800 hectares and lease 1100 hectares near Buckleboo, dedicating one-third of the property to sheep.
The family aims for a 100 per cent lambing percentage from their 850-ewe flock, selling their lambs over-the-hooks.
"The last few years we've been able to get the lambs up quite quickly and wean them off a mum in September straight onto a truck," Shannan Larwood said.
Mr Larwood said he had changed the look and feel of the flock's wool in the past decade.
"It used to be a bit harsh and steely looking, but now it's got to be bright and soft, with a nice consistent crimp and curvature to get a good staple length," he said.
"Season-dependent, lambs and hoggets are usually 18 micron and the main flock is about 20 micron."
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