Technology FAQs

Deer Unit

Wilkins Farming have integrated many forms of modern farm management practises to improve production levels in all livestock. WFL have clear focus on what aids in their progress and are open to new methods.

WFL rely on Leader Tags (EID), Gallagher weighing systems and FECPAK for faecal egg counts as part of their animal management systems.

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Deer Breeding Technology

Breeding for the Future

Since 2001 artificial insemination (AI) has been a big part of introducing new genetics to our herd. On the back of AI since 2004 we have been using embryo transfer (ET) to help speed up the multiplication of the animals, controlling breeding for specific traits. We have also Breed and purchased top sires for venison growth and maternal traits.

Natural Mating

Wilkins Farming Ltd has at its disposal a range of excellent herd sires for natural mating across its large hind breeding operation.

Enquiries can be done here.

Artificial Insemination

Wilkins Farming Ltd has at its disposal a range of excellent proven herd sires as well as leading industry sires for artificial insemination across its large hind breeding operation.

Enquiries can be done here

Embryo Transfer

Embryo transfer techniques allows Wilkins Farming to take top quality female livestock and use them to have a greater influence on the genetic advancement of their herd in much the same way that artificial insemination has allowed greater use of superior sires.
On the back of AI since 2004 we have been using embryo transfer (ET) to help speed up the multiplication of these animals, controlling breeding for specific traits. They have also bred and purchased top sires for venison growth and maternal traits.
The general epidemiological aspects of embryo transfer indicates that the transfer of embryos provides the opportunity to introduce genetic material into populations of livestock while greatly reducing the risk for transmission of infectious diseases. Recent developments in the sexing of embryos before transfer and implanting has great potential in the dairy and other livestock industries.

Enquiries can be done here

Management Tools

Technology And Management

As an integral part of their farming with technology methodology Wilkins Farming have adopted and integrated many available forms of modern farm management practises to improve production levels, increase genetic gain, maximise growth and development and generally make gains overall in all aspects of their animal programs.

They have clear focus on what aids them in their progress and are open to new methods and technologies as they become available.

As part of their management practises they rely on and use products from Leader Tags (EID),Gallagher weighing systems and FECPAK for faecal egg counts.

EID

ELECTRONIC IDENTIFICATION (EID)

Our EID system improves efficiency and helps you extract more profit from your farm. Some major benefits include:

Easy identification of individual animals
Our livestock inventory is more easily managed. All types of stock that carry an EID tag can be quickly identified and held on a software programme. Numbers of stock on hand can be quickly verified.

Fast access to accurate information
The integration of EID readers with weigh scales and computer programmes enables critical information on each and every animal to be quickly accessed and amended or confirmed.

Automated drafting
EID devices have the ability to facilitate automatic drafting. This speeds up the process and creates a safe working environment to enable accurate drafting to be done based on weight, species or other criteria.

Reduced paperwork
Management of animal groups and records of trait and activities by individual can be achieved without the use of traditional notebooks.

Full integration with other databases
EID systems are designed to integrate with other databases. This enables information to be quickly transmitted to other agencies.

Accurate record keeping for breeding
EID is well suited to our stud breeding program. Huge quantities of information can be stored and linked to each other individual animal enabling accurate record keeping.

Monitor animal health risks
EID assists in reducing the risk of large scale disease outbreaks and will assist in the fight against TB, movement controls and other agricultural impacts.

Full traceability for consumers
EID will enable full traceability from pasture to plate. This will mean that current demand for total traceability of a food source can be achieved. This in turn gives Wilkins Farming a further competitive advantage which ultimately should result in higher returns on commodities.

DNA

Achieving optimal animal performance requires fine tuning of a number of factors including farm management, nutrition and genetics. Wilkins Farming work along side the AbacusBio consultants to cover all these key areas and to gain an understanding of the sometimes conflicting demands of each and how to balance them to increase their profits. They have worked to enhance productivity and product quality in the sheep, deer and dairy operations.

Understanding management, nutrition and individual animals’ lineages and genotypes enables selection for the best quality breeding stock and production of high quality products. A major part of this is to allow them to track genetic pedigrees by the use of DNA technology.

Ultrasound/CT

Introduction
The main focus of genetic improvement programmes for venison production has been improving growth rates. High growth rate animals achieve slaughter live weights at an early age than low growth rate animals. While efficient conversion of grass into live weight gain is important in running an efficient venison operation, the amount of venison that can be turned into meat cuts for sale is also very important. Heavier animals tend to have a greater weight of meat than lighter animals, but that does not necessarily mean that the carcass has yielded well. Animals slaughtered at the same live weight can vary considerably in the weight of meat they produce.

An estimate of the difference in loin weight in a group of animals with a narrow live weight range (from 113 to117 kg) in the Wilkins Farming herd is around 1.7kg between best and worst animals. Loin weight was estimated from ultrasonic eye muscle area multiplied by the length of the animals back and the density of lean meat. At $8/kg carcass weight, this equates to a difference of $13.60 per head from the loin alone, without including any correlated increase in meat yield from the other areas of the carcass. The loin is also the highest value cut so the difference in ultimate value between best and worst yielding carcasses will obviously be much greater. Assuming a current average figure of $35NZ/kg FOB could be achieved then the difference in value between the best and worst animals would equate to $59.50 in the loin muscle alone.

Ultrasound scanning
In order to estimate meat yield in a live animal, we have to be able to ‘look inside’ the body of the animal. Ultrasound scanning is a medical technology that is able to collect images of tissues in the body. It is was developed for use on humans, but has been widely used in the sheep industry to measure the area of the eye muscle to improve meat production.

Ultrasound scanning works well for scanning farmed animals. The scanner itself is small and portable meaning it can be used on-farm. It does not take long to measure an individual animal and animals can be measured in a crush without the need to sedate. It is also relatively inexpensive so a large number of animals can be measured. However, it is not possible with ultrasound to scan the entire carcass meaning that the results for the eye muscle are used to give an approximation of total meat yield. There are also problems with deer in collecting good images when the stags are in their winter coats.

Ultrasound is a very useful tool in genetic improvement programmes to improving meat yield. It gives better estimates of meat yield than live weight alone, but not as good as more expensive technologies like CT scanning. However, the fact that it is inexpensive, easy to collect and measured on farm means that all of the stags can be measured.

CT scanning
CT scanning is another human medical scanner that has been applied for use in livestock. CT scanner allow us to take very accurate measurements on meat and fat in the carcass of an animal. The CT measurements are effectively as accurate as slaughtering the animals and then dissecting out the meat from the fat and bone in the carcass. However, the stag is still alive after CT scanning and can be used in a breeding programme.

While the accuracy of CT is excellent, scanning is very expensive (hundred of dollars per animal), and only a relatively small number of animals can be scanned in a day. The machine is not portable, so the deer have to trucked to the CT facility rather than scanned on farm. The deer also have to be anaesthetized while they are scanned. As such it is suited to taking a set of highly accurate measurements on a small group of animals. This means that CT scanning is suited to selecting the stud sires for use in the stud rather than for animals for sale to clients. The genetic improvements made in the stud then flow on to the next crop of stags for sale.

Benefits of ultrasound and CT scanning
Selecting for growth rate alone will improve the value of an animal’s carcass because it will have a larger carcass at the same date, or it can be slaughtered at an earlier age. If some meat yield measurements (i.e. ultrasound and CT scanning) are included in the genetic improvement programme, it is possible to improve carcass yield over and above the improvement that come from improved growth rate. In a breeding system that ultrasound scans all of the stags and CT scans the top 10% of stags, we would expect to loss a small amount of the improvement in growth rate (340g per round of selection), this would be compensated for by improvements in the yield of meant in the hindleg, loin and shoulder regions of the carcass. The gains have been estimated at an additional 510 grams of meat per round of selection, including 270g additional in the hindleg, 70g additional on the loin and 150 grams additional in the shoulder. These gains are per round of selection and are cumulative so with five years of selection the gains would be 1343, 373 and 747g more meat in the hindleg, loin and shoulder cuts than would have been the case if the stags had only been selected on the basis of growth rates.

These gains are based on random allocation of hinds to the stud stags. Further gains can be made using ‘assortative mating’ where the best stags are mated to the best hinds, although the level of inbreeding has to be monitored using this technology.

A full report can be seen here

-Neville Jopson (AbacusBio)

Faecal Egg Count

Wilkins Farming have long recognized that drench resistance, consumer pressure, poor drenching strategy design and increasing cost of treatments means that a chemical reliant solution to internal parasites is fast becoming unsustainable, unwanted, unreliable and uneconomic. Yet anthelmintic (drench) use has been, and still remains, the cornerstone of parasite control for many farmers throughout the world.

Wilkins Farming hence decided that the only way to decrease the importance of issues about drench use was to develop parasite management strategies that rely less on chemical inputs. In order to achieve this aim, different strategies such as grazing management, novel forages, breeding for resistance, altering stock rates/ratios, strategic anthelmintic use and contamination mapping started to be integrated into their farming systems.

Good parasite management starts with good information. Most farmers have historically relied heavily on industry wide recommendations (recipes) to guide their parasite control programs. Yet we need to remember that internal parasites are biological, and are affected by factors such as climate, location, and seasonal patterns. These factors have a significant bearing on the timing and level of parasite challenge but are ignored when farmers follow industry recipes.

It is the particular set of circumstances on each individual property that is important, not what someone at the other end of the country is recommending. With a good understanding of the parasite challenge on each of their properties, Wilkins Farming have developed a unique mix of management options and blend them into a targeted customised integrated strategy that best meets the unique challenge on their property.

Faecal Egg Counting is a simple diagnostic technique, which calculates the number of internal parasite eggs per gram (EPG) of faeces. A good relationship exists between the number of eggs per gram and the parasite status of the animal tested. FEC information is critical to making informed parasite management and treatment decisions.

Weigh Systems

WEIGHING AND ELECTRONIC ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION

Wilkins Farming use Gallagher Animal Performance Systems as they provide a full range of leading edge, robust and simple to use animal weighing, data collection and electronic identification (EID) systems. Gallagher offers a complete animal performance system to help you monitor and maximise performance of your animals, and extract more profits from your farm.

The Gallagher SmartScale range of superior live animal weighers allow Wilkins Farming to:

Measure feed conversion by monitoring weight gain over time to maximise yield:
Well informed management decisions are made for feed rationing to meet target weights by date. Information gained from the fast, accurate capture of body weight measurements from the SmartScale provides for more efficient use of time and resources on farm.

Monitor animal health:
Accurate measurement of body weight gives critical information about the health of the animal. Changes in body weight can provide an early indication of animal health problems.

Confirm animal weights prior to mating:
The live weight and condition of the animal can have significant impact on the breeding performance.

Determine weaning weights:
The future performance of the animal can be directly linked to the weight and maturity of the animal at the time of weaning. Monitoring of animal weight close to weaning with the highly accurate results from a SmartScale provides the most efficient means to maximising the future returns from animals.

Select animals by weight for sale and slaughter:
Drafting by weight for slaughter insures that maximum profits are returned to the grower by accurate selection of animals based on weight.

Evaluate breeding performance for genetic selection:
Accurately tracking growth rates of progeny over time provides vital information for genetic selection and improvements in breeding performance.

Maximise the benefits of having animals fitted with electronic ear tags:
A direct interface between Electronic Ear Tag readers and the SmartScale range of weighscales provides a significant opportunity to improve farm management practise. Error free identification of animals prevents incomplete or inaccurate records of animal number and weight information. Automatic ear tag scanning and hands free weighing of animals reduces labour requirements at the weighing site. Automated drafting systems controlled by SmartScale result in complete hands free animal handling in the yards.

Research Technology

Breeding for the Future

Wilkins Farming Ltd have been using ultrasound since 2003 and CT scanning since 2007 to investigate how these technologies can be used to improve meat yield in their venison breeding programme.

To date, industry genetic improvement programmes for venison production have focused on improving growth rates. High growth rate animals achieve slaughter live weights at an earlier age than lower growth rate animals, so there are obvious economic benefits in selection for growth rate.

While efficient conversion of grass into live weight gain is important in running an efficient venison operation, the proportion of meat cuts that can be recovered for sale is also very important. Heavier animals tend to have a greater weight of meat than lighter animals, but that does not necessarily mean that the carcass has yielded well. Animals slaughtered at the same live weight can vary considerably in the weight of meat they produce.

This report compiles information derived from four years of CT scanning work and summarises the results to date.

To read this full report from Neville Jopson at AbacusBio go here