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John Howie

Improved handling systems and electronic identification (EID) in cattle has helped Girtridge Farm in North Ayrshire to become safer and more efficient whilst helping to improve cattle performance.

With EID tagging in calves likely to be introduced in 2020, farmer John Howie has been taking part in an industry led pilot trial investigating how EID technology can enable him to keep accurate records and ensure traceability is maintained while cutting down on time spent visually reading tag numbers and recording data.

John Howie runs the 140-hectare Girtridge Farm, the North Ayrshire Monitor farm, in partnership with his mother and sister. They currently finish around 230 cattle all year round, some housed and others from grass.

At last week’s North Ayrshire Monitor Farm meeting, held on Wednesday 25 September, at Girtridge Farm, Dundonald, attendees heard about John’s work to utilise EID tags and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) readers to monitor cattle performance and make management changes based on the information to increase production and overall efficiency.

“We’ve gone from using pen and paper to record our data, to a new UHF reader fitted to the crush which is saving a lot of time.  It has made data recording easier and a much more pleasurable experience,” said John.  “Although we’ve only recently introduced the tags, the ability to have the readers fitted to the crush will improve overall productivity and will, over time, help us to better track weight gain and allows us to identify which cattle are performing for us.”

The Howies have also introduced an auto-drench gun to compliment the new EID technology which was demonstrated to attendees at the meeting. The auto-drench gun uses Wi-Fi and automatically adjusts the dosage according to the weight of the cattle.

“It’s important that all technology is integrated and the auto-drench gun will demonstrate possible savings to be made from reducing instances of over-drenching cattle, as well as decrease parasitic resistance caused by under-dosing,” said John.

The approach mirrors the ongoing work of the Moredun Research Institute. Gillian Mitchell and Fiona Kenyon from the Institute attended last week’s meeting and explained how this technology can be utilised in Targeted Selective Treatment to save time and money by only treating animals losing weight.

Girtridge Farm is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.