record; sheep; small stock; goats

Keep records to sharpen your flock management

If you have a serious interest in your animals, and in making a profit, you must measure and record. These are essential livestock management tools.

Don’t skip this because the very sound of the words record keeping is enough to make you cringe. Rather cringe if you are not keeping records, and read on.

Records are an enormous help to every stockman and woman. In your record book is the history of your flock. From this history you learn what works, what not to do and how to make good decisions, based on your understanding of past failures.

The bigger your flock grows, the more you need the records to keep a handle on the animals. The smaller you are the faster your growth and improvement will be, if you keep diligent records. With the right attitude, you will find that keeping records is surprisingly rewarding and interesting.

Farmers keep records to check on what happened and when it happened; to make short and long-term decisions; to make these decisions based on accurate information.

Consider this tale of a game farmer who paid for an annual helicopter game count every year. The animal counts were logged in a book. After about six years the farmer brought in a consultant, because he was losing money. The first thing she asked for was the game counts. One look at the records told her immediately what the problem was. The animal numbers had not changed in five years and in some species, the numbers were less than in previous years. He had a serious poaching problem and an equally serious management problem.

The farmer, a businessman, knew he had to count his game, because other ranchers counted their animals. But he did not know what to do with the information other than to log it.

The thing is to use your animal records intelligently and with understanding. Nobody knows your flock better than you do. This knowledge, combined with decent records, will keep you moving forward with your management. Remember, the Saudis want goat meat and they want a lot of it. Expanding your flocks sounds like a good idea. Expansion requires some vision, a plan and some diligence.

A sample page from a breeding book gives some idea of basic record-keeping. Individuals may prefer a different method of charting events or adding information. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you do it and it makes sense to you.

What to record

Prioritise breeding, feeding, disease control and performance when keeping records. Remember, untagged animals cannot be recorded. Every animal you own must be marked in a way that makes identification not only possible, but easy. Ear tags are the norm, but if you have a better idea use it.

Breeding

Get yourself a breeding book in which to keep accurate records of the breeding season. Record the date the bucks go in with the does, and the date they come out.

Even if you haven’t seen the animals mate, you will know the month they were bred and you can calculate when they are due to kid – five months later.

Once you have worked out when your does are due to kid, you have enough information to plan things like a possible feeding programme in late pregnancy or early lactation.

At kidding time record the births and the sex of the kids. The same goes for weaning. Now you have useful and relevant information at your finger tips. You know which does are infertile, and which of them had multiple births. You know which kids survive to weaning and who their mothers are. This information is part of your management guide.

Write down what you observe about the forage your flock is eating. Make notes on the quality of the forage and the condition of the animals.
Write down what you observe about the forage your flock is eating. Make notes on the quality of the forage and the condition of the animals.

Feeding

Keep monthly notes on the food your goats are eating. Comment on the condition of the veld, the browse, grass or supplementary roughage (like hay) you are feeding out.

Record the supplements you feed out, the quantities the animals take in, and the time of the year you need to feed supplements. Match the condition of the animals to your records, and you will know what feeding plan to implement and when to do it.

Disease and health

Record all animal diseases and deaths and add as much information as possible. This includes sex, age, condition score, symptoms, repeat sickness and reason for death. If you can’t afford a vet when an animal dies, you can open the animal yourself to have a look at its organs and possibly pick up the problem. Just be very careful if there are any dreaded contagious diseases floating around. In this case don’t do an autopsy yourself. Call the vet no matter what the expense. Paying the vet is better than losing your flock.

Keep records of dipping, dosing, treatments and vaccinations, and write down the names and quantities of the products you used.
In time, these records become an essential resource for you, the farmer. A resource that helps you assess threats to your flock, and make management decisions, like which animals should be culled and which kept.

Once you have accurate records for one season, you’ll will find yourself returning to the book to check on what is coming up in the next season.
For example, you can see when you vaccinated last year and order your vaccine in good time this year.

When you have had to handle a crisis with an animal or more than one animal, it’s easy to forget to record the event in the aftermath of the trauma. So, do it the next morning then – but do it.

Performance and production

Weigh kids monthly to check on growth rates. If you don’t want to weigh them all just weigh a sample of the kid crop. From your breeding records you can work out what percentage of does gave birth to live kids, which bucks were the most successful sires, how many kids were weaned. This is production-related information that you can use to measure progress in your livestock business.

share this