Choose The Right Metric For Drafting Success, The Wrong One Could Cost You…

Time and time again we see farmers, regrettably, solely choosing an autodrafter based on the advertised speed of weighing. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, a drafter is only one part of your overall data management system, and a wholistic view needs to be taken. With that aside, pushing speed in autodrafting is like pushing for a faster running dog whilst ignoring working ability. So we urge you, please, when looking at autodrafters, notice that the advertised speed says up to x, with the key words being up to.

Up to does not in any way equal realistic. Sure, our drafter can push up to 600 sheep per hour weighing, and up to 850 sheep per hour with EID, but is that sustained over 3,4,5 hours of drafting? Does that include opening and closing gates? Does that include stopping to turn some sheep around in the race? Of course not.

When in a completely unstressed situation, meaning moving under their own impulse with no fear from yelling or dogs, once used to the machine, sheep will move through any drafter at 350-450/hr weighing, and 600-750/hr with EID.

At the start, the sheep still have to learn just as much as you, so this number will most likely be lower.

Sure, you can sustain the higher numbers with pressure, more people etc. but the whole metric of success in autodrafting is: low stress, low labour, high accuracy segregation of a mob. It is not to be ‘faster than 3 people and a dog forcing sheep through a manual crate/draft’.

  • Low stress means sheep are happy, return to feed immediately, won’t try to double up or jump in the crate, and will happily run through again. We have witnessed many times sheep wander out of our drafter, sit down 2m from the exit gate, and start chewing their cud. We have also seen sheep so stressed by their in-yard management and noisy crates that they hit every square inch inside the crate, bash out of the gates, run straight for a fence on exiting, and attempt to fit themselves through a 6-inch hole. These people also say they ‘don’t like bringing the sheep into the yards as they go off feed’. This is why your training package that comes with the drafter includes ‘Tim’s Tips for Drafting Success’ which talks about sheep stress reduction tactics. If the sheep aren’t doing the work for you, it’s YouWork not SheepWork
  • Low labour means better utilisation of farm resources and higher ROI. You’re buying these machines to make weighing/drafting easy, fun, and a one-person job. If it takes you 3 people to draft 1000 sheep in 2 hours because you want the speed, but the same 1000 sheep drafted by one person takes 3 hours, you are actually 6 hours better off in terms of labour utilisation with one person. Our maths isn’t wrong, you have to take into account that if there are 3 hours of labour being wasted in the yards, that same 3 hours of labour isn’t being used elsewhere, so the opportunity cost of this doubles the time. Labour efficiency is one of the biggest drivers of on-farm profitability
  • High accuracy means you only have to do the job once, and know it is correct. There is no point in getting bad data just to ‘get out of the yards quicker’. When speed is pushed, sheep are more bouncy so weights don’t settle, you are less likely to catch and prevent issues affecting weights, and your data suffers because of it

If you are trying to run the crate at its maximum speed, constantly, these three imperatives start to suffer because the sheep are bouncy, you aren’t caring as much about making sure they are weighing right, they’re stressed, you’re stressed and the whole show isn’t ‘what you saw on the advertising video’. When you can draft a couple thousand sheep, by yourself, whilst sitting in a chair and watching the cricket on your phone, you have to start asking yourself, is speed the most important factor?

A quick note on handler-drafters: We frequently speak with farmers who have wanted to buy a ‘machine to do everything’ but one big issue is this: just because a sheep clamped in place will mean their weight will settle quicker, this does not equate to overall faster drafting in a lot of cases. This is because of one factor: Sheep don’t like being clamped!

When starting this business, we wanted to make a machine to do everything, as it appealed to us too, but we just could not get sheep to consistently run through a clamp willingly. How do you overcome this unwillingness of sheep to run? With extra labour and increasing stress levels of sheep so they are more afraid of you than the machine.

This often looks like one person making sure they get clamped in the right spot (so weights are correct), another person managing the leadup (because the sheep are scared of the clamping and the person standing at the crate), and another person pushing up. This completely kills your labour efficiency.

We are not talking down on these machines, they have their place, and there are exceptions to the rule. If we were running a station and only touched our sheep once a year we would most likely have a handler-drafter. When running a commercial or stud breeding operation, frequent drafting is necessary, and the sheep need to work with you otherwise it’s a frustrating time in the yards, this is where a dedicated weighing and drafting system, plus a separate dedicated handler will be a lot more successful.

Sheep farming is fun, and yard work can be too, it comes down to choosing the right metrics, having a goal in mind and getting the best system to achieve that goal.

If you would like to speak more about auto-drafters, data, yard work or the BreedELITE Sheep System, head here: Book a call

To see the outcome of what drafting with our system looks like, there is a great video on this page of how drafting should be: