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Trade Secrets To Be Applied In Canterbury Project

April 2,2006

Trade Secrets To Be Applied In Canterbury Project To Discover Cause Of $16,000 A Year Sheep Farm Income Loss

A high eight per cent of his breeding ewes are ending up dry. For the Darfield farmer with this persistent problem, it is costing at least $16,000 a year in lost income

Now the Sheep for Profit programme is launching a special project on the Canterbury farm to try discovering the cause.

The Sheep for Profit farm performance measuring and management system, which lifted gross income per farm by $67,752 above the national average during a 50-farm national pilot programme between 2001 to 2003, has already discovered some new opportunities to help farmers achieve optimal mating performance in their ewe flocks.

These opportunities have been the result of a large amount of farm data being collated, analysed and tested within the Sheep for Profit network which now involves more than 100 farms nationally. Sheep for Profit is keeping the details of its significant breakthrough on mating performance a trade secret.

Sheep for Profit's Chris Mulvaney, of AgriNetworks, says a huge and valuable database is building, revealing possible causes and management options to overcome major and costly issues, like the perplexing one in Darfield.

Sheep for Profit's newly appointed advisor in the area, Darfield veterinarian Simon Hewitt, who has many sheep farmer clients, ranging from smaller lifestyle farmers on the plains near Christchurch, to ones with flocks of more than 12,000 in the high country in the Arthurs Pass region, says his Darfield client has been worried by the high dry rate for the past five years.

The Sheep for Profit database shows the average dry rate in the highest scanning flocks is much the same as the average across all flocks at 3% but it is 5% in the flocks in the lowest quartile for mating performance.

Finding why the Darfield farm's rate is 5% higher represents a huge opportunity to lift its profits.

In a flock of 2000 breeding ewes, reducing the dry rate from 8% to 5% should provide an extra 120 lambs. With a current value of about $55 each, this is a $6,600 a year opportunity.

To cover the 100 ewes culled because they are dry means 100 extra lambs must be retained as replacements or 100 ewes purchased. This adds another $5,500 to $10,000 to the lost opportunity.

The total opportunity is worth between $12,000 and $16,600, excluding the cost of all the feeding and animal health treatments the ewes have as part of the mating programme.

At $16,000, it's an opportunity cost of $8 per ewe mated.

Over a five-year period, even at current prices, the problem is costing the farm more than $80,000 in lost income

So the Sheep for Profit team is looking forward to helping the farmer drill down into the problem incorporating its "Mating Performance Package". The approach will be taking a much broader approach to finding out what is happening. The programme may also drill down into issues like mating performance by age, or follow culled ewes to the works and undertake further investigations.

The Sheep for Profit team is guarded about providing too much more information. The Sheep for Profit databases, using information gathered from farms nationwide, are now revealing some comparatively simple solutions which have, on other farms, helped solve the dry rate problem.

It is valuable extra knowledge to add to that generated by the millions invested in the issue by research organisations.

In other cases in other areas, using research findings, in association with Sheep for Profit information specific to individual farms, has helped many farmers reduce the numbers of ewes with bearings. The databased experience is also showing up some good tactics to help deal with adverse weather events, like drought.

"Through the Sheep for Profit system we can deal with nutrition and other factors, whereas in veterinary practice we're dealing with disease. Now we can tackle problems before they occur," Hewitt says. "As vets it means we can contribute a lot more."

Sheep for Profit farmers pay a set annual fee to Sheep for Profit to link into the on-line Information Management System (IMS). Advisors set their fees for their farmer clients, but the "ballpark" is about $3500 a year. The IMS relieves advisors of the hassle and time associated with data management. It ensures they are e-mailed every time a farmer client enters data into the website.

Farmers can enter their own data to create easy to read reports via the AgriNetworks website. AgriNetworks also offers an "Easy Data Entry" package where farmers complete and return special record forms by fax or mail for data entry by AgriNetworks personnel.

Sheep for Profit is now inviting applicants nationwide for its fourth quarterly intake, closing on April 30.

Successful applicants each have a Sheep for Profit advisor. The measurement system they'll use helps them identify what's driving or hindering farm performance. Farmers set their own goals and can achieve significant rises in revenues and cash surpluses.

"It's not about following advice based on trendy fads that come and go – but a farmer developing tactics based on what's driving performance and profit on their own property," Hewitt says.

Application forms are available now from Sheep for Profit coordinator Fiona Owen 07 872 0247. Those submitted after January 31 will be wait listed for the fifth intake, closing on July 31, 2006.


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