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Author's profile photo Lauren McCallum

Why Our Sheep Didn’t Get to Market

If you have a sheep farm in the mid-Atlantic, you plan your year around two dates:  the Monday before Easter and the Monday before Orthodox Easter. Every Monday is Sheep and Goat auction day at New Holland Livestock Auction in New Holland, PA — one of the largest livestock auction houses in the East Coast. And the Mondays before these Easter events bring the highest auction prices for lambs.


My husband and I back schedule from these dates every year, planning the date to breed our Shropshire sheep (gestation about 147 days) so that the lambs will be born in time to reach the critical 80-100 pound weight that is the ideal Easter lamb.

This year we had a good crop of lambs ready to go when our big farm truck, the only one that can pull the livestock trailer, picked Saturday afternoon to blow its clutch. No one works on Sunday in our part of Pennsylvania, and even if my husband could have replaced the clutch himself, he had no access to parts. So Monday, March 30, came and went without a trip to the stockyards. Instead, we had the truck towed to our mechanic, who discovered it needed a new flywheel as well. Parts were ordered, and the wrong parts delivered by Wednesday. Parts re-ordered on Wednesday and delivered to the wrong repair shop on Thursday. Good Friday is a local holiday, so no truck repair happened that day either.

Result, we missed the Monday April 6 auction before Orthodox Easter Sunday too. Missing those two auctions decreased the price we will get for our lambs by about $100 a head. That’s the difference between breaking even and making a profit in our business. Good thing we both have other jobs.

Could we have borrowed a friend’s truck or hired a livestock hauler? Sure, if we had known in advance this would happen. Spring is a busy time on the farm, and we have to schedule the borrowing or renting of equipment in advance. We didn’t.

What does this have to do with SAP or with software?

Ironically, I had spent the months before Easter using John Deere’s preventive maintenance project as an example of the value of analyzing big data, in this case the value of analyzing the data that comes from the sensors in John Deere’s tractors so that they can be fixed before they break.

Over a year ago, John Deere invested in a co-innovation project with SAP that uses SAP HANA as the platform to analyze equipment data to predict and avoid potential equipment down time. As part of this project, hundreds of millions of data points were loaded into HANA. These included machine alerts captured  through the telematics technology running on the equipment, warranty claims from John Deere’s global SAP system, and textual data from John Deere dealers who service the equipment. The analysis of this data enabled John Deere’s engineers to identify problems in the field in time to advise customers of preventive strategies BEFORE the equipment went down. In some cases, John Deere estimated that they spotted problems two to three months faster than before, making for much happier farmers.

If Ford had the same offering for its F250 farm trucks, my husband and I would be much happier farmers. Come to think of it, I’d be a much happier Mom if Honda could do the same thing with my son’s old Element, or my mother’s Accord. The possibilities are endless.

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