THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: ASKBILL puts sheep producers a step ahead of the season

Posted by BCG on 19th November 2018

Sheep farmers from across the country say that ASKBILL has taken the guesswork out of managing their livestock’s productivity and wellbeing.

George Carter of Walcha, New South Wales, says ASKBILL has definitely improved his animal welfare, “We’re much less likely to be caught out with lambs in exposed paddocks because ASKBILL has the ability to warn us about upcoming cold snaps,” he says.

Mr Carter believes that the most valuable aspect of ASKBILL is the Bureau of Meterology’s short and long-term weather forecasting that underpins the tool. “The forecast data comes down to a five-kilometre grid which means it is really relevant to our farm, dramatically improving our ability to manage for our specific conditions.”

Model predicts risk before the event

“Throughout 2018 the app has been reminding us of the dry outlook and providing information on how well our pasture is able to keep up with feed requirements. This has really helped me plan ahead and use supplementary feed to make sure my lambs meet market specifications.”

Developed by the Sheep CRC, in conjunction with the Bureau of Meteorology and the Data to Decisions CRC, ASKBILL is a web-based software tool that provides timely and accurate predictions of sheep wellbeing and productivity.

ASKBILL is unlike any other technology currently available,” says Sheep CRC Chief Executive Officer, Professor James Rowe. The model links individual farm records with sheep production and climate data to predict the state of pastures and livestock six months into the future.”

ASKBILL not only makes these complex predictions possible, but makes them accessible to all producers in a simple and practical tool. It gives producers the information they need to manage their flock’s performance well ahead of joining, lambing, weaning and sale decisions.”

The model draws on information from multiple sources to make informed predictions about:

  • Flystrike and worm infection
  • Extreme heat and cold weather events
  • Pasture availability and feed budgets
  • Live weight and condition score
  • Information on livestock and their performance for buying and selling.

Easy to use

Sheep CRC Program Manager, Lewis Kahn, says the software was designed to help producers manage the top five endemic diseases in the Australian sheep industry.

“Most farmers respond to these diseases based on visual assessment, but by the time you can see the problem it is already costing you money. ASKBILL allows you to get on the front foot.”

“One of the most important things to us was to make the software easy and quick to use,” says Professor Kahn. “It has been tested by more than 100 producers since May 2017 and for most properties it takes just 30 minutes to set up.”

Another sheep producer involved in the testing was Brad Wooldridge, who runs two properties, one in the Great Southern and one in the South Coast region of Western Australia. Mr Wooldridge found the feed alerts really valuable in supporting his decision in 2018 to make three 500km round trips each week to feed sheep so that he can meet their intake requirements. “ASKBILL also provides me with the confidence that I can manage both properties without missing anything like a potential worm problem. With barber’s pole, a lot can happen in a week,” he says.

Image. Sheep producer, Brad Wooldridge found the ASKBILL feed alerts really valuable in supporting his decision in 2018 to travel to feed sheep so that he can meet their intake requirements Source: Sheep CRC.

Planning targets

Producers can set targets such as live weight or pasture levels needed to meet market dates or condition scores for joining. Using the example of future pasture availability, ASKBILL will plot the predicted median value as well as the upper 75th and lower 25th percentile levels (Figure 1). If local conditions put the pasture target under threat, the producer receives an alert with advice on their options, such as buying in additional feed or decreasing stock numbers.

Figure 1. ASKBILL helps users to plan ahead by comparing their pasture target with modelled future median availability (dotted line) as well as the upper 75th and lower 25th percentile (shaded in grey). Source: Sheep CRC.

‘What if’ scenarios are another feature that allow producers to look at what might happen over the coming six months. For instance, producers can view a chart of predicted flystrike risk for their specific location and model the benefit of applying a chemical on a certain date (Figure 2).

Figure 2. ASKBILL can model predicted flystrike risk (black line) and the average (blue), while the “What if” scenario allows users to look at the potential value of a preventative treatment (red). Source: Sheep CRC.

The team are currently working to extend the model to beef cattle and a prototype is expected to be available in the latter half of 2019.

ASKBILL is available by subscription for $110/year (including GST) per property. Try it free for the first seven days.

Lu Hogan, 02-6773-3597, lhogan5@une.edu.au

More information about ASKBILL can be found on the Decisions Support Tools page.