Adoption of Electronic Identification (eID) – Cootamundra, NSW

By Harriet Coutts

James Burge – ‘Windella’, Cootamundra, NSW


James Burge operates an 840ha self-replacing Merino sheep enterprise, located halfway between Stockinbingal and Cootamundra in NSW. The enterprise consists of 2000 breeding ewes and 800 weaner lambs. James also manages another property near Warren NSW, consisting primarily of grazing crops and cereals, which he utilises for producing stock feed and to fatten and finish his wether lambs.

James was first introduced to electronic identification (eID) technology in 2022, after witnessing demonstrations of DNA sampling, breech wrinkle scoring and visual classing, at a neighbouring Merino ram stud. After much deliberation, James decided to start simple by implementing eIDs one age group at a time.

“The 2021 drop were the first mob to receive eID tags, there’s about 500 of them. We wanted to start off with one mob at a time just because we were new to all this technology and didn’t want to get overwhelmed. Having only one mob with eIDs meant, every time that mob came into the yards, we could spend a bit more time to collect data without rushing and we had room to make mistakes and learn from them, because it was only in that mob. Really, we used them as a learning curve.” 

The different types of data that James decided to collect, stemmed from his breeding objective which is to “create a better, all-rounder ewe, that is plainer but still has desirable wool and can have plenty of progeny to increase productivity.”  James has since begun to use this data to accelerate this production goals.

Why did you choose to adopt eID technology?

“We are trying to mirror a ram breeding operation but on a commercial basis”.  

“We don’t have a very big property, so we want to make every sheep count. If we can increase productivity by getting more lambs on the ground, then we will have more sheep to class from and can be harsher with our selection”.

Since implementing eID tags on his property, James has recorded individual greasy fleece weights (GFW) and associated fleece data (micron and yield) along with body weights on his 2021 drop ewes. Additionally, James has recently captured their pregnancy scanning results including the number of foetuses (singles, twins, triplets and dry’s).

“By using eIDs, we can easily identify the outliers or the poor performers in our flock and make decisions to increase production…which will hopefully improve our flock average”. 

Moving forward, James plans on double tagging his 2022 drop ewes with an electronic and visual tag at classing and his 2023 drop ewe lambs at marking. James will continue to collect the same data as he did on the 2021 drop ewes on these age groups but aims to capture some additional traits for the 2023 drop, such as birth type, by separating mobs to lamb down in single/twin/triplet paddocks. James will also collect a breech wrinkle score on these lambs at marking, so he can benchmark and track his progress towards breeding a plainer bodied sheep.

“We are about to do the first classing on the 2022 drop ewes, and we will pull out the obvious culls and put eID & VID tags in what’s left. We aim to capture Greasy Fleece Weight results on these as well as their pregnancy scanning results. We will also be lamb marking in early June and hope to capture the birth type of the 2023 drop lambs and their breech wrinkle scores at this time.” 

How are you using the technology to assist with making more informed decisions?

“I want to use eIDs to improve my business and the overall management of my flock.” 

With the data collected on the 2021 drop ewes and in working with local sheep consultants, James now has valuable information which he is now using to make simple but more accurate management and culling decisions.

For example, the fleece data collected was used to allocate each ewe a RAMPOWER ranking based on her Merino Production Plus (MP+) index value, which was then uploaded onto James’ XR5000 indicator. Now, anytime these ewes enter the yards for classing, James can easily identify the highest and lowest performing animals and use this data to make more informed breeding decisions.

Have you made any changes to your management practises?

James’ interest in data collection has only increased since putting eID tags in the 2021 drop ewes and collecting individual data against them. He has recently invested in upgrading some of his eID equipment to allow him to store more data, as he wishes to increase the amount of data he collects. This has given him the freedom to collect, analyse and then visualise several traits at a time.

“I previously had an ID5000 and upgraded to the XR5000 which has given me more room to work.”
“If anyone asks me about buying indicators or other Ag tech, I always tell them to just buy the top level because you’ll grow into it, and that way you won’t be limited in what you can do later on. Yes, it may cost you more in the beginning, but it saves having to outlay more costs later when you can’t do what you want with the equipment you have, and it only slows your progress from the start”. 

Furthermore, the 2021 drop trial mob has enabled James to learn from any mistakes and make changes accordingly. For example, after losing a few eID tags at shearing, James decided to tag the 2023 drop lambs with two tags (an eID plus a Visual tag) to ensure any lifetime data is not lost if a sheep loses its eID tag.

“If I was to change anything, I’d probably double tag my sheep from the start, it just gives us a fall-back option for data collection and a bit more peace of mind”. 

Has the use of the technology allowed you to achieve your production goals?

“I think the slow implementation has been a good move for us.”

“Now I have the confidence to collect this data and use it to make decisions that will ultimately benefit my ewe flock rather than relying so much on the visual values and independent classing.” 

Whilst James’ eID journey has only just begun, he is one step closer to achieving his production goals. James has gained valuable confidence in his own ability to use eID technology effectively and has allowed eIDs to shape some of his management decisions on farm as he is determined to get the most out of the data he is collecting.

“When eIDs become mandatory, we will already be at the forefront of the industry with the gains that we have made”.  

Take Home Messages

  1. Take advantage of the resources available to you, i.e. gain knowledge and skills about Ag Tech from industry professionals and other producers already using the technology and equipment.
  2. Use your breeding objective to determine what data you need to collect.
  3. Start off simple! It makes it more manageable and allows you to learn and interpret the data easily.
  4. Build your confidence by engaging with Ag technology.