Livestock Management Solution - Matthew Blyth

Matthew Blyth of Didling Farm in West Sussex knows firsthand how using technology has driven his business forward. 
One of the first farmers to really embrace EID, he has proved that collecting and using data can improve decision-making and profitability.

"About five years ago we started with EID tags and a stick reader and used them alongside some spring balance scales and a Tru-Test XR3000 weigh head" says Matt.  "Very soon we realised the huge potential of this technology and invested in a Prattley 3-way auto-drafter with an EID crate and some new Tru-Test load bars".
The new system meant that as sheep entered the crate their EID tags were read and their weight recorded. 
Using criteria already preset into the XR3000, the sheep could then be drafted automatically by Matt using a remote control.

"We built the system up a bit like Lego, but then we realised that we needed an additional gate as there were always a group of sheep or lambs that we needed to separate for some reason, either because their tags wouldn’t read or they had a problem that we needed to treat.  We upgraded to a 5-way autodrafter and now find that we use all five gates every time".

The reason such investment could be justified was due to some immediate cost-savings in time and external costs.

"This year at weaning we separated 1400 ewes from their lambs and batched them into four groups: ewe lambs, lambs 35kg plus, 30-35kg and under 35kg.  That’s a big job on any farm, but having the right equipment meant that I did it in less than 10 hours with just me and the dog".

Matt has two adjoining farms totalling 1200 acres in total with only one permanent under-shepherd, but the system is completely mobile and packs away along with 20 hurdles that can be towed on the back of the quad or pick up. 
Because it is so compact and lightweight it’s much easier to handle the flock and Matt finds that they are now weighing every two weeks throughout the grazing season.

"By monitoring their progress regularly, we prevent overfattening lambs and can send batches to the abattoir more frequently and that helps cash flow.  Using the data we get back from the abattoir through the EID tags we have worked out that the killing out percentages on our farm differ from some of the national averages allowing us to calculate our profitability more accurately.  We have also learned that the deadweight differs with certain breeds of terminal sire so we know that we can afford to send some lambs at a lower weight and still make the profit we need.  This can be particularly beneficial in a drought year when grazing is running low".

Matt believes that there are animal husbandry benefits to be had as well. 

"Almost immediately we started saving money on the drugs we used – by weighing accurately and dosing accordingly we found we were using less when drenching, it might be only 2ml less per sheep, but over the course of a year we were saving hundreds of pounds.  Now that we have data going back several years we have a clear idea of the daily weight gain we expect on our farm and if lambs are putting on weight fine we won’t worm automatically.  If some lambs aren’t performing we can do a fecal egg count and treat as necessary, so it allows us to follow SCOPS principles. We’ve also noticed that frequent handling means we pick up on other health problems such as fly-strike and lameness more quickly – and the data tells us that these kinds of underlying conditions really reduce finishing rates if not dealt with promptly".

The long term benefits to having all this information is that Matt, and the consultants he employs to help, can analyse the past to plan for the future. 

"We’ve seen real benefits on the breeding side of things because we can see within one season whether a ram is doing his job or not.  In the past we have experimented with various breeds of terminal sires for the bulk of the commercial flock, by looking at the information we got through EID we learned that the best results on our farm came from a local breed, the Southdown.”
"My boss wouldn’t have written the cheque for this equipment if he couldn’t see that it would benefit our bottom line right from the start, but it’s when you have a few years of data that you can begin to see the potential to take your business forward.  The figures don’t lie, so for longer-term planning like grass management and breeding programmes it’s invaluable".

Click here to download a presentation showing exactly how this technology has changed Didling Farms operation.

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