By Dr Clive Dalton
Practical recording tips
New Zealand sheep farmers, shepherds and research technicians over the years have shown amazing innovation in developing practical ways to make field recording easier. The following are some of them:
Plastic tagging adult does
- Pick a good dry day; avoid wet and humid days.
- Do the tagging as a special job. Don’t incorporate it with a variety of other tasks.
- Make sure everyone concentrates to avoid errors. Banish barking dogs.
- Avoid general chat and make sure the person who is reading the tags has a good clear voice. A loud high-pitched voice is ideal as you can hear it above the other yard noises. Don’t let smokers read tags as the cigarette stuck between their lips all day reduces their diction, as well as their long-term health prospects!
- Dip the tagging pliers into disinfectant after every sheep.
- Hold the goat firmly during tagging so pliers don’t slip half way through the job. This is not such a problem with today’s quick release pliers.
- After tagging about 10 animals, turn them out to see if the tags are in a good readable position and not too near the head. You should be able to read the numbers at 3-5 metres away.
- It’s nice to be consistent and put the plastic tag in the left (near) ear along with the brass tag to help the shearers. Some farmers don’t like this and put the plastic in the right ear – knowing that if a shearer hits it, there will be no damage to the gear compared to hitting a brass tag. Whichever is your choice – be consistent for the shearers’ benefit.
- One idea (if you can afford the time) is to punch the holes in the ears and let them heal, free from the irritation of the tag. Then go back again about a week later and put the tag through the hole, which will be a painless operation. It’s not practical when handling large numbers of goats.
- This can be a tough job. The ears of the old does are tough and punching the hole with the special pliers causes pain so they need to be firmly held by one person while the other does the punching.
- Then with the goat in a foul demeanour you have to put the tag through the hole and squeeze it up correctly. If you botch this part and have to open the tag and redo it, that goat will never forget you!
- Put the tag in the top of the left (near) ear about a third of the distance from the head.
- Dip the pliers in disinfectant after every goat.
- Watch for infections for a week after tagging.
- Have plenty of sticking plasters handy as you will knock a lot of skin off yourself in this exercise!
Tagging kids at birth
This is the most challenging part of recording, as you can’t leave the job for another day (unless there is storm conditions) and remembering all the points made above about doe and kid behaviour at lambing. Shepherds and technicians developed many tricks over the years to get the job done in sheep. Here are a few of them.
In fine weather
- Start early in the morning (just after daybreak is ideal) and work your way around the paddock tagging kids as you go.
- If there are groups of does that have all kidded in the same place – you‘ll need to attend to them first, as there will be a high risk of parentage errors.
- On the way to the doe note her number incase she clears off, and grab the kid or kids and hold them between your knees. You can do this kneeling on the ground or sitting on your backside using your leggings for insulation.
- Use a light fishing (landing) net with collapsible handle to catch kids, especially twins and triplets and hold them together during tagging.
- If the doe runs away (most likely with two-tooths), hold a kid by the back leg and let the doe see it. If the kid doesn’t bleat –blare like a kid to attract her back! Practice and frustration makes perfect!
- Tag the kid/kids and complete any other tasks.
- Take out your record book and enter the data.
- Before you let the kid/kids go, double check the tag numbers in their ears and the doe number. If there is any doubt about parentage – clearly record this fact.
- Check the unused tags to make sure you are still in sequence and some have not been lost. Try not to drop the tags so they get out of order.
- Don’t do the recording in bits, e.g. enter the tag number after tagging each kid, etc. Do it all in one go.
- Release multiples together incase the doe takes off with one kid and you have to chase her.
- It used to be recommended if there were a lot of does that had kidded together to go in and spot mark the multiples, so you got them correctly identified with their dam when you started tagging.
- If it’s really wet, then keep away until it stops raining, as you’ll do more harm than good. Hope that it stops raining in 24 hours because after that the kids will be very mobile and harder to catch.
- If it’s only showery, then tagging can proceed, remembering that punching holes in wet ears risks more infections than with dry ears.
- Carry a towel around your neck to dry your hands before writing in the record book.
- Keep the book inside a plastic bag and write inside there.
- Use a dark pencil, as ballpoints don’t like wet paper.
- Use notebooks with waterproof paper if available.
- Don’t risk a tape recorder incase of malfunction.
- Use a palm-held computer inside a plastic cover – if you can trust its reliability.
- If there is any doubt about parentage of kids – record this fact.
- In some recorded high-fertility flocks run with minimal labour, docking is now done at birth to avoid the work and disruption of docking later.
- There have been concerns on animal welfare grounds about the shock of docking newborn kids, and that it will increase mismothering as one kid may lie down and the mother take off with the others.
- Some breeders find that newborn kids show less reaction to having rubber rings on tails and testicles than older goats, and mismothering has not been a problem.
- Shepherds have come up with some great ideas over the years to hold all their recording gear.
- Examples have been modified builder’s aprons or bags with plenty of compartments for tags, pliers, notebook and veterinary supplies.
- Also a large flap to keep all the gear dry and which also serves as a desk top in the paddock for the notebook or to sit on when the ground is wet and cold.
Tagging kids when older
- When farmers have adopted minimal-shepherding systems, kids are tagged later when they are difficult to catch.
- Accuracy of parentage is usually quite good, as the does have had plenty of space for kidding being set stocked and spread out.
- It is possible to set up a pen like a docking pen and drive does into it with their kids (singly or in groups) and tag them. It’s a slow and tedious job.
- ID can be done at docking as described above but can be much more of a disruption unless you have a slick well-organised team, and are prepared for docking to take longer.
- A set of scales is an essential piece of equipment these days for large flocks, but can always seem expensive for a small flock. Small farmers should consider joining with neighbours to share the cost or borrow scales from their vet clinic.
- Today’s electronic scales consist of two weigh bars and a platform that needs to stand on a firm base in the yards. The readout unit can be put anywhere such as on the ground, rested or hung on the fence, or hand held.
- It can do calculations and provide readouts such as the current weight, weight gain since the last weighing, average for the mob and the range (highest and lowest) and store all the data.
- For individual animals that you can lift, stand on the bathroom scales and get someone else to read the dial while you hold the sheep. Remember to subtract your weight!
- With the best will in the world, when reading tags you’ll end up with missing numbers and duplicates that are always hard to sort out.
- The key is to have a checklist, which is simply a sheet with a list of numbers from 1 to 100 or 1 to 1000. As each tag number is read, put a line through that number on the checklist, which proves it has been read.
- Then as soon as a duplicate number appears, you can double check the number to see if it is the correct one, or the previous one was wrong. You may be able to see at the end from the numbers missing where the error was in reading the tag.
- Misread numbers, especially on brass tags because of poor eyesight.
- People reading tags with poor diction or while smoking.
- Transcribing numbers where the number is read correctly when called out, but the digits are reversed when it’s written down. Some people are very prone to doing this and don’t know it – and will argue that they didn’t do it.
- The other variation of the above is to see the number but shout it out with some digits exchanged. Again some people have this problem and don’t know it. And they will argue too!
- For both the above problems, insist the tag readers or those who write it down repeat it.
- Poor writing in record books with blunt pencils or ballpoints in the rain.
- Failure to double check at frequent intervals.
- Failure to stick to a set routine e.g. when tagging at lambing time.
Recording fleece weights for selection
This is done on the shearing board using. A wide range of scales can be used. You should weigh the total greasy fleece but excluding any dags.