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Electronic Identification and Targeted Strategic Treatment of Sheep

The Challenge

The use of EID tags is a mandatory requirement introduced in 2010 to aid sheep traceability.

Despite some farmers and crofters have finding using EID tags burdensome, the monitoring and logging of information could provide a powerful management tool. Moreover, resistance to worming medicines (anthelmintics) is increasing among Scottish sheep flocks. At present, 80% of lowland flocks and 55% of upland flocks show evidence of resistance. To reverse this trend, it is important to try to maintain an anthelmintic-susceptible parasite population among sheep flocks, which can be treated with medication. Using EID technology to target animal for treatment could help reverse this trend.

Targeted Treatments and EID Systems

Effectively targeting animals relies on the identification of those animals that will most benefit from treatment. This is achieved using short-term weight change (difference of weight from one weighing to the next). The task is simplified with EID-based technology to identify individual animals.

The EID-based technology can be combined with an auto-drafting weighing crate to help monitor body weight and weight change.

EID sheep scanning

Research at SRUC

Two management systems are being tested. One system uses EID-based technology (EID) and the other uses conventional means to assess weight and condition (CON).  The research started in 2011 on a flock of 900 Scottish Blackface and Lleyn ewes at SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Centre.

The information gathered by both systems is used to make decisions on flock management, including the allocation of individuals to feeding groups, targeting health treatments, and selecting ewes for culling and lambs for slaughter or sale.

Lamb in grass

Pedigree, performance, economic and labour data are being collected and compared over four-year on both systems.

In collaboration with Moredun Research Institute, targeted worming of lambs has been trialled within the flock of 900 ewes, divided between the 2 systems:

  1. based on assessing individual lamb growth using EID;
  2. based on treating the whole flock if worm egg counts in faecal samples exceed 500 eggs/g (CON).

Lambs undergoing targeted worming are weighed monthly. They are only wormed if they do not reach their individual target weight, which is calculated based on expected growth rates and grass availability.

Research has found that EID based technology can aid sheep management when taking decisions on feeding, worming, drawing animals for slaughter and selection for breeding. It can save time and labour for the farmer, reduce handling stress for the animals, reduce paperwork and increase ease and accuracy of recording.

A calibrated sheep auto-drafting weighing crate can further ease management time, record and sort up to 500 animals per hour. Over the whole year, this can lead to labour savings of 30-40%. 

Taking a targeted approach to worming lambs, based on individual lamb weight change, as recorded by EID, also showed that it can be successfully implemented on a hill farm. So far, such an approach has led to 52% savings in wormer costs and provides up to 75% of labour savings without compromising lamb growth.

On the research farms, average difference in net margin between the 2 systems were found to be around £4/ewe; indicating a saving in employed labour meaning for 900 ewes a minimum of 3 years to pay back the cost of the purchased equipment.

The Impacts

EID technology can help improve farm efficiency and economic margins, even on hill sheep farms.

Data is useful if management time is also provided to interpret what is being recorded.

Further, a more targeted approach to worming lambs reduces unnecessary treatment and consequent risk of resistance. It even holds short-term savings through reduced wormer cost.

EID Equipment

Scientific Publications

Morgan-Davies, C., Lambe, N., Wishart, H., Waterhouse, A., Kenyon, F., McBean, D., McCracken, D. (2018) Impacts of using a precision livestock system targeted approach in mountain sheep flocks. Livestock Science, 208. 67-76

Kenyon, F., Hutchings, F., Morgan-Davies, C., van Dijk, J., Bartley, D.J. (2017) Worm Control in Livestock: Bringing Science to the Field. Trend in Parasitology, 33. 659-660

Wishart, H. , Morgan-Davies, C. , Stott, A. , Wilson, R., Waterhouse, A. (2017)  Liveweight loss associated with handling and weighing of grazing sheep. Small Ruminant Research, 153. 163-170

McBean, D., Nath, M., Lambe, N., Morgan-Davies, C., Kenyon, F. (2016) Viability of the Happy FactorTM targeted selective treatment approach on several sheep farms in Scotland. Veterinary Parasitology, 218, 22-30

Morgan-Davies, C, Lambe, N. (2015) Investigation of barriers to uptake of Electronic Identification (EID) for sheep management1 SRUC Rural Policy Centre Policy Briefing, March 2015 (RPC RB 2015/06)

Morgan-Davies, C., Wishart, H. (2015)  Electronic Identification: Making the most out of compulsory tagging. SRUC Rural Policy Centre Policy Briefing,  February 2015 (RPC PB 2015/04)

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