Using Technology in Small Ruminants

I’ve used this phrase enough that it will probably be etched on my tombstone: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” While every operation has different goals, the question is, how do you keep track of where you are in reaching those goals if you aren’t recording data? What if recording data could be easier? Perhaps there is something to the cliché sometimes you must “spend money to make money.” One technology that is gaining traction in the small ruminant world is RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. It’s been used in the cattle industry up to this point. But I see the popularity beginning to grow in sheep and goats. Superior Farms is utilizing the technology to help producers track carcass characteristics. SmartScales, Te Pari working systems, and other automated handling systems are being used at universities and showing up in more and more private operations. Sandi Brock is a fabulous example of using technology. As mentioned before, though, is expensive technology adoption worth the investment?

Our farm was involved in a USDA research trial that tested several different kinds of RFID tags in goats (we only tested 1 specific brand). After several years of using the tags in our adult goats, we’ve decided to start using them in the kids each year. Seems like a wasted expense, right? Yet we have found that accurately keeping track of every kid on the place is worth every penny. There have been countless times we’ve weighed a group of kids and misread a handful of tags, or information was entered incorrectly on an excel sheet. Or paper records got wet, were drawn on by a toddler, or even eaten by a goat kid. While this might not seem like a big deal, anything that helps us better manage animals is a valuable tool.

The following is a brief example of some of the data to capture on an individual basis:
• Body Condition
• Deworming status
• Easier to record and manage production characteristics
• Saves on costs and labor (able to do a better job selecting)
• Sorting groups
• Progeny linking
• Carcass quality
• Success of a genetic pairing
• Growth measurements

Eventually, RFID tags will be required by the USDA. It’s happened in other countries, and it is only a matter of time before the rules are enforced here in the US. Why not give the technology a try? You might be surprised by how useful it is.