SMALLER sheep and lamb processors now have the tools to tap into the benefits of providing animal health data feedback to producers, thanks to research which also uncovered insights into producer attitudes towards such information.
The two-year project, funded by the Australian Meat Processer Corporation and run by the National Meat Industry Training Advisory Council, known as MINTRAC, saw the development of data collection software and a strategic dissemination system so the information is put to best use.
It was aimed at small and medium processors who typically do not have the resources to develop their own system or buy into bigger customised programs.
MINTRAC's Clive Richardson said the idea was to explore the value of providing producers of sheep and lambs with animal health information collected at post mortem inspection and develop a reliable, accurate and effective model for the collection of that data.
The project started with a review of five existing models of producer feedback focussing on the returns and benefits to processors of each.
From there, a simplified model for small and medium processors was developed and trialled.
It enabled sheep health data to be recorded against a lot and property identification code and had the ability to automatically email the information to producers.
"When herd and flock numbers build up, the likelihood is a growth in more supply chain based brands, where farmers are given feedback to ensure supply of the specified product," Mr Richardson said.
"Ultimately there will be a premium attached to being in one of these supply chains. This sort of information will be a critical link in that."
The researchers looked at producer attitudes and likely responses to the provision of data - producers attended workshops and toured plants. This work covered things like common diseases and conditions, the cost of the condition to the producer, solutions in terms of livestock pharmaceuticals and changes to stock management and the costs of that to the producer and systems for them to access data.
"We found producers were enthusiastic about stock health data," Mr Richardson said.
"There are a lot of young, very smart farmers coming on, and many adaptable older farmers.
"One thing we found was information delivery has to be immediate - it has to reach people via mobile phones.
"Producers were particularly interested in the diseases that are a real issue to profitability in their area."
Lamb and sheep health data is currently available online from MLA's Livestock Data Link when sheep and lamb are processed at a participating plant. The data is gathered under the National Sheep Health Monitoring Project (NSHMP), managed by Animal Health Australia.
The benefits of collecting and distributing carcase information for processors are based on the premise that if producers have animal health data on their stock they will respond by addressing the prevalence of the conditions.
That leads to decreased trimming and labour costs, increased offal recovery and overall better carcase value.
"When you see lambs going through with grass seed or inoculation abscesses, it's literally thousands of dollars lost because of things that are easily fixed," MINTRAC's Clive Richardson said.
"The other side is producers being able to minimise losses by understanding health conditions costing them money.
"This sort of flow of information also breaks down barriers between producer and processor, and builds trust.
"Confidence in the data means there is money to be saved for both sides,"
The work has also helped pave the way for long-term studies of trends in animal health as well as stock and carcase quality, he said.