By Emma Penny

CATTLE producers are being urged to check their entire herds eartag numbers before turnout.

This will minimise likely disruption this summer, when all cattle will be included in the computerised database operated by BCMS.

Under EU legislation, Britain is obliged to have a fully operational cattle database with details of the entire national herd.

Originally, younger cattle were a priority because they can enter the food chain, but now details of older animals must also be included.

It is a task that should already have been completed, says NFU livestock policy adviser Carol Lloyd.

“Britain was supposed to have a fully operational database by 1 January, 2000, but were only just completing MAFFs consultation.

“However, it is an inevitable move, and the NFU message is that producers should prepare for it.

“If we want a live export market we must have a good database, and were currently lagging behind other member states.”

She admits that some producers may see it as a pointless exercise given the OTMS scheme is still in operation.

“These are EU rules, and we need to be able to trace all animals in the UK herd as part of that.”

But Ms Lloyd says that there are benefits from the scheme.

Official inspections would reduce from 10% to 5%; passports may be obsolete; and it will reduce paperwork for cattle premium schemes.

It should also simplify Date-Based Export Scheme checks, avoid duplicating information and improve animal disease control.

Currently, MAFF is consulting on how information on the national herd should be collected, and has given three options.

These include:

  • On-farm inspection of all cattle and farm records by independent advisers;
  • Farmers providing written information on blank forms; or
  • MAFF providing a pre-printed form with details of cattle believed to be on the holding based on official information such as TB testing data.
According to both the NFU and Scottish NFU, the third option is the most favourable and would cause least disruption, although Ms Lloyd adds that the first option – independent verification – would be the most credible.

“But providing producers with pre-printed forms to check records match up with their cattle is the most popular option at this stage, and, on balance, the most likely option.”

However, she warns that MAFF and other Agriculture Departments appear likely to supply forms during summer.

“To minimise disruption – and to save you having to take all cattle in to check their eartags in summer – its probably best to check everything now before they are turned out.

“This should include all cattle eartags and farm records.

“The NFU has asked that this exercise be carried out when stock are housed, but if MAFF decides to do it in summer, checking details now will save hassle.

“MAFF does realise that producers are busy, but it also says that no time is ever good for such an exercise.”

For stock born on or before 1 July, 1996 – before passports were introduced – the information required is likely to include official identification number, age, breed, sex, details of the farm where the animal is kept and either the holding or country of origin.

In future, BCMS is also likely to require details of all the animals movements on and off holdings and eventually where it died, says Ms Lloyd.

Where cattle on the holding are born or imported between 1 July, 1996 and 28 september, 1998 and hold old-style passports, BCMS is also likely to require details of the animals locations and any subsequent movements.

But the NFU is also concerned about cattle which are not registered on the database, either because a passport has not been issued, or someone has failed to apply for one, says Ms Lloyd.

“We would like an amnesty for these animals, so at least they can be located and producers can choose to appeal against the decision not to give that animal a passport.”

Animals which are re-tagged will be held on the database under their newest number, which should help clear up official databases, although there will be provision to check back to previous identification numbers, she adds.