Electronic identification of cattle, along with the opportunities it offers to enhance herd management, was the main discussion topic at the recent Kintyre monitor farm meeting.
The 1,730 acres (700 ha) Glenbarr Farms, owned and farmed by Duncan Macalister, is located just north of Campbeltown on the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula. The mixed farming operation is one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland.
In addition to approximately 120 acres of barley and a breeding flock of 550 ewes, Mr Macalister runs a herd of 140 predominantly spring-calving Aberdeen Angus cross cows which are mostly out-wintered, with all progeny finished, other than retained heifers.
Mr Macalister is considering investing in a cattle electronic identification system, for accurate individual animal record keeping and as a management tool to help identify superior, and importantly, poorer performing individuals and/or breeding lines.
“We’ve been trying for some time to keep accurate records for a variety of criteria, with the intention of using the information as a guide for replacement heifer selection,” explained Mr Macalister.
“But, I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes ear tag numbers have been misread or written down wrongly. Also weight recording hasn’t been totally reliable, thanks to human error. Sometimes the transfer of information from note books or scraps of paper to computer has also got a bit mixed up!
“So, with improving EID technology, along with its increasing range of information which can be recorded, and then how this information can be used in decision making, I’m keen to EID the cattle to try to help improve what is the make or break of my cattle enterprise – the bottom line!”
From 1995 to 2011, Aberdeen-Angus bulls were used exclusively in Mr Macalister’s herd. Bulls had been selected for high EBV (estimated breeding value) figures for growth, with home-bred heifers retained as replacements.
At his initial monitor farm meeting in March 2011, Mr Macalister told the community group he believed his cows were getting too pure and that he needed to introduce some hybrid vigour and boost milk production.
At the next meeting a Hereford bull was introduced to the group. The bull had been selected for his high milk, growth and scrotal size EBVs, and was the initial step towards developing a Black Baldie (rotational cross of Aberdeen-Angus and Hereford) herd at Glenbarr.
At the recent meeting, the group viewed the first progeny of the Hereford bull, a batch of home-bred Black Baldie yearling heifers, running with an Aberdeen-Angus bull.
“I’m keen to establish for myself just how well the Black Baldies, plus all the other breeding females, perform every step of the way,” said Mr Macalister. “This includes from how quickly they take the bull, ease of calving, mothering ability, weaning weight of calves, health issues, ease of management, plus the daily liveweight gain, carcase yield, grade, and number of days to slaughter of finished progeny.
“Currently replacement heifers are selected on size, by eye and then reference to the dam’s history. I hope EID will help me make more informed heifer selection, particularly as once all the historic information is correctly fed in, at the touch of a button, I should be able to access the historic performance of particular dam and sire lines. Also, importantly, it will help to ensure bulls are kept away from daughters and grand-daughters.
“For our 2012 calving, the percentage of calves reared per females to the bull was 81. This figure needs to improve, and better selection of replacement females for natural fertility, ease of calving and mothering ability traits, should be steps in the right direction!”
At the meeting, Hazel Strachan, the Scottish representative for Shearwell Data Ltd, demonstrated a fully mobile, hand held stock recorder, operated by touch screen, capable of reading any EID tag which has a chip, and allows the farmer to instantly feed in information. This information can then be downloaded, via a USB port, into a computer, where, with compatible software, the data can be tabulated into a wide range of farmer chosen subjects.
The next Kintyre monitor farm meeting will be in October.
For further information, please contact either of the Joint Facilitators:www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms