Performance Records: Do You Really Need More Paper Work?
Yes, paper work is needed if you are running your sheep operation as a business.
When sheep prices are good, as they have been for past couple of years it is easy to believe that you don't really need all that paper work. It is work to figure out if there is much difference between this years lambs going to market and last years. But are you getting the maximum profit from your operation?
Small details are important. A decrease of .05 lambs weaned on average over a 400-ewe flock is difficult to notice if you don't keep records. But that .05 lambs adds up to 20 lambs over a 400 ewe flock and starts to look more significant if lambs are worth $125 and you've actually lost $2500.
All producers need to keep production figures. Production is where the health of your sheep business begins. You need to establish base line health data for your farm for the same reason that you go to the dentist or the doctor for a regular checkup. You want to be able to recognize problems early when they are easier to fix.
I remember listening to a sheep producer talking about how it wasn't really worth being in the sheep business anymore. He felt that no one could make a living and an hour into the conversation provides the following information. "The ewes don't have as many lambs as they used to. I'm sure more of them used to have twins and I used to be able to make money." Now if this producer was keeping basic records and monitoring the health of his sheep operation, this drop in prolificacy or numbers of lambs might have been noticed the first year that the numbers started to decrease. At that time the producer would still be able to identify what management decisions may have contributed to the decrease.
Performance records are imperative for monitoring your farm business. Records are needed to determine the current status of your flock performance. This will help you target the areas of performance in your flock that you would like to change or improve. As you accumulate data over several years you can monitor the changes and trends between years. For example your lambs were on average two kilograms lighter at weaning than last year. After a review of management changes, the only change that could have affected the lambs is a change in the ewe lactating ration. It appears that the ewes may not have been milking as well as normal and you can start your investigation to correct the problem.
Purebred producers have added reasons to keep records. Buyers of breeding stock are interested in buying repeatable performance. Buyers want to take those animals home and know that with good (notice I didn't say excellent or fantastic) management, the animals will add a certain level of performance to their flock. I don't have any confidence in buying an animal from a flock where performance records are not kept. It is difficult for me to believe that the biggest lamb in the pen has the best genetics for rate of gain, maybe the biggest lamb is a single that is the oldest animal in the group. I also don't have the greatest confidence in buying a triplet ram lamb to increase the number of lambs born in my flock. Maybe that rams dam is six years old and has had four singles, one set of twins and luckily a set of triplets. There may be another ram in the group who is a single whose dam is twelve years old and has had six sets of twins and five sets of triplets and in her old age happened to have a single lamb. Genetically, I know which ram I would rather have in my flock and I won't be able to pick the animal if the breeder doesn't keep performance records.
What is required to keep performance records? Identifying your animals and collecting the following information: sire if possible, dam, lamb identification, lamb birthdate, number born, number raised, sex of lamb and disposal codes for dead lambs for each lambing; and weighing all of your lambs at weaning and at market weight with weigh dates. This is the basic information required to monitor your lamb meat business. Wool and milk producers will want to keep information specific to wool and milk production.The records can be kept on a computer spreadsheet or on paper spreadsheets by ewe or by lambing.
There are also on-farm sheep management computer systems, which will assist in the collection and analyzing of performance data.
I like to think of raising livestock as an art; we don't have all the answers and never will, and we do know that every time you think that things are finally running smoothly something new will show up to challenge your operation.
Keep some basic performance records on your flock so that you will see that challenge when it first arrives and have the best chance of overcoming it easily.
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