Sheep and Beef Traceability and Integrated Farm Management

During 2008 and 2009 Rezare Systems and Innovation Waikato managed a project to evaluate and demonstrate the benefits of an integrated farm management system (technology working in concert) for sheep and beef farms.

The project was centred on two farms:

  • The sheep and beef farm of John and Anne Brier at Ngaroma, south of Te Awamutu in the North Island; and
  • James and Charles Reid’s sheep, beef, and deer operations on the Leedale block of Traquair Station, near Mosgiel in the South Island.

At the time, on-farm returns for sheep farmers in particular were very low. The industry was seeing a substantial decline sheep and beef farming operations due to poor profitability and competing land use.

The Walton Farm dairy project had demonstrated that carefully selected technologies, particularly if they integrate, could enable farmers to improve productivity and profitability. We wanted to see if this would apply to the challenging environment of New Zealand sheep and beef farms, where animals are handled less frequently, and there is substantially more flexibility and complexity to the options that farmers consider.

As well as coordinating the Programme Steering Group, Andrew Cooke from Rezare Systems undertook project management for the North Island farm.

About the Farm

The farm as it was during the project:

  • 643 hectares (550 effective) of hill country between 300 and 500 metres in altitude.
  • A substantial river gorge limits access to the back part of the farm for larger equipment.
  • The farm was operated as 3 distinct units: a 45ha deer-fenced unit, 87ha bull unit divided into 72 cells with single-wire electric fences, and 428 of mostly steeper hill country.
  • Wintered 2200 ewes plus ewe hoggets, 70 beef cows and 200 bulls or steers.
  • John worked the farm himself with the help of Anne and one worker.

Technologies

Key technologies adopted on the farm included:

  • Farmax,  a feed monitoring and planning system that helps farmers choose the most profitable mix of stock classes to match their grass supply and to respond proactively to changes in farming conditions (climatic or market). John’s son Brendan Brier supported this tool as an agricultural consultant.
  • A pasture renewal programme (including precision helicopter spraying and seeding) managed by Moloney Agronomics using product from Metarix and PGG Wrightson.
  • An on-farm sheep identification system utilising equipment from Gallagher Group and Racewell, supported by Mobile devices and the LivestockOne web application.
  • Supply of traceable lamb product to specification as part of the Marks and Spencer supply programme managed at that time by Rissington Breedline.
  • Creep grazing trials managed by AgResearch intended to increase lamb liveweight at weaning, letting lambs preferentially feed ahead of ewes. In trials at other farms, AgResearch saw increases in weaning weight of up to 8kg. We did not see such a substantial increase, primarily due to the increased pasture quality and availability from a move to earlier rotational grazing (rather than set stocking to weaning).
  • Creation of a district-wide and on-farm wireless network by Rural Link. John and Anne coordinated the community to construct their own broadband wireless network (farmers put up poles on hilltops and Rural Link installed the wireless equipment). This replaced the 1200bps dial-up service previously available in the district.

Related Documents:

These presentations were delivered at a field day held on the Brier’s farm in February 2009.

  • Field day Agenda
  • DVD Overview Document
  • Creep Grazing trials
  • Introduction to Farmax
  • Benefits of Farmax for John and Anne Brier
  • Rural Link wireless networks
  • Rissington Breedline lamb supply programme
  • Sheep Information and Traceability system