Animal Management, Sheep Handling

Smart technology for genetic progress at Cleardale Station

Written by Aimee Johnston

Smart technology for genetic progress at Cleardale Station

Cleardale Station is a 1600-hectare property in the scenic Rakaia Gorge in New Zealand. The station runs approximately 15,000 stock units with a quarter-bred Merino stud and a recorded Angus stud cow herd.

The mission at Cleardale Station is to design and breed the animals for tomorrow. Their specialty quarter-bred merinos are a dual-purpose fine wool sheep with good growth and fertility, that are bred to thrive in any environment. Cleardale Station has been making genetic progress year-on-year since 1954 and in recent years the team has embraced new technology to ensure that their data is recorded accurately and more efficiently so that they can make more informed breeding decisions that optimise genetic progress.

cleardale station, vetmarker lamb weigh attachment

EID Tags Revolutionize Data Accuracy

To ensure precise data recording, Cleardale Station utilizes Electronic Identification (EID) tags in their sheep. The EID tag reader eliminates recording errors during weighing, streamlining processes while enhancing data accuracy.

Lambs are ear tagged early on so that a weight can be recorded at tailing. Growth rates are easily tracked on individual animals because weights are recorded to the tags every time they are weighed.

The team at Cleardale record fleece weights and fleece samples collected at hogget shearing to be sent away for thorough analysis. The fleece analysis is then recorded through the EID tag, providing valuable insights into yield assessment, fleece diameter, and greasy/clean weight. This information contributes to the development of breeding values, shaping the station's genetic strategies.

Within any flock of sheep there is a substantial variation in the characteristics that influence an animal’s production level. Using EID tags to identify each sheep allows farmers to understand these variations which provides opportunities to select or sort animals based on different criteria such as scanning results, breed, fleece weight, fleece micron, growth rate and so on to make informed management decisions for the operation.

cleardale station, smart shepherd collars

Smart Shepherd Collars used for Maternal Matching

Data collection starts at a mating stage for Cleardale Station. They use single-sire mating, and then a Smart Shepherd Collar system to match lambs to their mothers. The Smart Shepherd Collars are used to accurately identify the lambs raised by each ewe and can also measure the strength of the ewe–lamb bond. 

The Smart Shepherd System uses Bluetooth enabled "Smart Pod" collars that are attached to all members of the mob - mothers and lambs. The collars measure the frequency of interaction and the distance at which the ewe and lamb associate in natural free-range environment. Then an Android handheld device used to match the Smart Pod with the animal’s ear tag and to read and upload Smart Pod data on collar removal. Find out more about the Smart Shepherd System on their website:

cleardale station vetmarker tailing chute 01

Vetmarker Lamb Chute: Streamlining Weighing Processes

At tailing the team at Cleardale Station use a Vetmarker Tailing Chute with Weigh Attachment and a handheld EID reader to make lamb weighing more accurate & efficient. This streamlined process records lamb weights against EID tags while they have the lambs in the chute for vaccinations and tailing. The Vetmarker Weigh Attachment is an optional accessory that can be fitted to the end of any model Vetmarker Lamb Chute. It has Iconix Load Cells with compatible leads for Tru-Test and Gallagher scale indicators.

cleardale station vetmarker tailing chute 08

“We bought the Vetmarker for the weighing. We were looking for a better way to weigh our lambs. Once they’re weighed, they go down the chute, they get a couple of injections of vaccination B12, scabby vax, then tailed, as well as the weight being recorded against the EID that's in their ear.

Before we had the Vetmarker we were just doing a sample way, you know, like we'd put them in a bag and literally weigh them with a dial. So yeah, it's quite different now. We're not writing anything down. We're wanding and recording on a touchscreen pad. It's saved us so much time. We just used to have to hold them on a board, and there'd be four people picking up lambs. If you look now, we've got two people picking up lambs and then the jobs that everybody else is doing, but it's not just holding onto them anymore.

So yeah, having the scales is great, for us to get a weight as easily as we do now and record other traits at the same time is really good.” Said Ryan Elser.


Data-Driven Breeding Decisions with EID Tags

Cleardale Station use Electronic Identification Tags (EID Tags) to measure the performance of individual animals and make decisions specific to each animal, reducing costs and labour, while at the same time maximising returns.

“We just plug in the EID reader wand; it connects to a laptop, and we can see each sheep and its data set up on the screen. Whether it's a twin, single, how old it was, who its dad is, who its mum is. There's a line of 12 EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values), from weaning weight, lambs weaned, foot rot scores, staple lengths and more.

When we go through selecting the rams that we use, we've got target EBVs that we're trying to get to, so the data that we're collecting now will evolve as technologies change. There’s always going to be something new and we like to think that we're at the front of some of these things that are happening.” Said Ryan Elser.

cleardale station sheep, rakaia gorge, new zealand

Harnessing EID Tags for Operational Excellence

The data captured by EID tags offer Cleardale Station multiple benefits, from improving management efficiency to ensuring data accuracy and enhancing genetic gains. Learn more about the advantages of EID tags for sheep here.


Watch the video from Ryan Esler at Cleardale Station