By Debbie James

Using EID technology to capture the performance data of beef cattle is allowing a Welsh finisher to market individual animals at their optimum weight and specification.

Geraint Evans sources dairy-bred store cattle from local livestock markets, mostly in the autumn, and finishes around 400 of these annually at Penrallt Farm, Llantood, near Cardigan.

He targets an average daily liveweight gain (DLWG) of 1.1-1.2kg, or 1kg at grass.

Mr Evans, who farms with his parents, Peter and Jean, had been keeping paper records of cattle weights, often relying on guesswork to establish when animals had achieved their optimum weight.

As a Farming Connect Focus Farm project, he switched to a system of capturing data electronically.

The cattle have been tagged with an identification tag and this is read using the handheld reader; this is linked to a weigh scale system to monitor performance.

The information captured, including weight gains, is used to help manage stock in a simpler and more effective way, says Mr Evans, who sells directly to processors.

EID allows him to check when animals are close to the best sale date.

Those small adjustments can make a big difference to the margin, he says.

“EID gives me the DLWG for individual animals and I can use that information for quicker and more accurate decision-making about rations and when to sell stock. Downloading the data is a simple process.

“Since we installed the system we know when an animal has reached its full potential, in the past we might have kept it on farm even though the animal wasn’t gaining any weight which effectively meant we were losing money on that animal.’’

EID also helps with his buying decisions by identifying which animals perform best in his system.

He buys cattle at 18 months and aims to finish at around 30 months at a 700-720kg liveweight average.

Every animal is treated for fluke and worms when it arrives on farm and for pneumonia at housing.

As stores the ration per head is 20kg grass silage, 4kg fodder beet, 2kg protein blend, 0.1kg minerals and 0.03kg yeast.

At finishing this increases to 12kg silage, 12kg fodder beet, 6kg crimped barley, 1.75kg blend, 0.12kg minerals and 0.03kg yeast.

Beef nutritionist Hefin Richards, who has worked with Mr Evans on the Farming Connect project, says EID has helped to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in the system at Penrallt Farm and identified strong, average and poor performing cattle.

“We can compare the data of cattle with similar birth and arrival dates to identify any variations in performance and in terms of lifetime DLWG,’’ he explains.

In one comparison of two of Mr Evans’ animals, one steer achieved a DLWG of 0.93kg, had been on the farm for 243 days and had cost £367.54 to feed; this animal had generated a daily margin of only £0.07.

The second steer in that pair had a DLWG of 1.19kg, had spent 147 days on the farm and consumed £222.34 of feed. This animal had generated a daily margin of £0.51.

“As you use EID to build up information like this you can start to make different decisions,’’ says Mr Richards, of Rumenation Nutrition Consultancy.

It can pick up on trends – for instance if a group is poorly performing it can indicate that silage quality has dropped, that grazing management needs to be reviewed or an adjustment is needed to the ration, says Mr Richards.

He advises that the correct time to sell a beef animal is when the cost of adding the final kilogram of weight equals the sale price of that kilogram.

“Up to that point each additional kilogram has a positive, albeit diminishing, margin,” says Mr Richards.

EID is set to become compulsory but there are advantages to using this technology ahead of the compulsory deadline.

“It can bring significant efficiencies to modern livestock systems,’’ says Farming Connect Technical Officer Menna Williams

When investing in EID, she advises farmers to compare the support systems offered by the manufacturer or supplier.

Good back-up is important, she says.

“Do your research. Talk to other farmers who are using EID, what do they think is working well and not so well,’’ she says.