scale Last weekend, I weighed all the lambs to capture their sixty day weaning weights. This is an important metric for evaluating which lambs had the best growth potential, so I was really determined to do it this year. But I needed a scale, and “real” livestock scales are expensive!

I had been watching for one on craigslist, but boy, used ones are hard to find, and they are still expensive! At this point, I can’t justify buying a cattle scale in the thousand+ dollar range, so I sought a less expensive alternative.

I ended up choosing to buy a veterinary scale on eBay. Several vendors sell them new there, and one big enough for sheep can be found in the several hundred dollar range. Mine was $250, it’s made by Tree brand, and can weigh animals up to 700 pounds. It can run on six AA batteries, so I can use it in the field.

There are some drawbacks to this style of scale. They are fairly fragile electronic scales, so they need to be treated gently, and of course can’t be used,  or left out in, bad weather. “Gentle” and “sorting and weighing livestock” don’t usually go together in the same sentence, 😀 so it’s going to be a challenge to take care of this device!

Most of the veterinary scales I looked at seem to lack the right kind of “hold” feature, which takes an average of the animal’s weight as its moving around. This necessitates trying to hold the animal very still, and keeping them on the scale longer while you wait for a consistent number to settle out. The seller of mine claimed to have such a feature, but I’m not convinced it works very well. There is a separate kind of “hold” feature advertised on some scales, which just continues to display the last-read weight after the animal has been removed from the scale. This just helps you get the number written down without having to remember it. But this is clearly different from a true averaging algorithm.

I noticed there is a range of sizes in veterinary scales, and some of them seemed a bit too small dimension-wise for weighing sheep. I chose one with as big of a platform as I could find.

Once using the scale, the most annoying feature I found was the auto shutoff feature. It doesn’t stay on very long by itself, and normally one might be grateful for it not running down the AA batteries. But it seemed like whenever I just got a lamb wrestled onto the platform, the unit would turn off. I’d have to take the sheep back off, turn the unit on, and wait thirty seconds for it to zero out again. It didn’t seem to have the smarts to notice I’d just put something on the scale and assume that I might not want it to shut off! As I got into the rhythm of it, I’d hit the zero button before each sheep, and that seemed to keep the unit awake. Until I’d forget…

Despite the drawbacks, however, for $250, and for the  three or four times per year I need to weigh, I think it’ll work OK. We’ll see how long the thing lasts after the first time it really gets bashed around from a renegade sheep! 🙂 But hopefully I can continue to make do with it for a few years.