12 April 1996

Complete traceability is claim for electronic tag

What should form the basis of a national quality assurance scheme for cattle? We canvassed producer views. Here Allan Wright talks to a Scottish producer who has used electronic tagging, and a computer database, to secure traceability

SCOTTISH farm manager Dave Scott has electronically tagged 500 beef cattle without losing a single tag.

The system, at Barnkirk, Newton Stewart, is based on Allflex ear-tags but which contain an electronic chip. This encodes the identification number of the animal displayed on the outside of the tag.

Rodger Simms of Stock-Land Computer Systems, Bucks, says: "Our system provides complete traceability through the lifetime of an animal – on farm, at market or in the abattoir."

He is currently subsidising the tags at £3.50 each.

The tag weighs 8g and Allflex is researching a 5g model for sheep.

To register cattle, the producer completes a form giving holding and herd number details, BSE and EBL status and the number of tags required. Data are checked with the MAFF computer. As tags are used, the producer returns a free-post registration card giving details of breed, sex, and date of birth which is then incorporated into the Stock-Land database. Male cattle can be registered automatically by Stock-Land with MAFF for cattle identification documents which are sent direct to the producer (included in the £3.50).

On farm the tags can be used for simple identification using a £200 reader. But they can also be used in conjunction with Stock-Lands computerised management system to recognise animals in a weighing and handling race and record not only weights but medication and other management data. Record-ings at the race are downloaded from a hand-held computer to the one in the farm office. That degree of sophistication costs about £2000.

The tags can also automatically activate shedding gates or feeders. At auction markets trials have shown that, with a portal frame scanner, the tags can be read at a rate of one beast every three seconds giving identity and subsidy status from the Stock-Land database. A second portal frame at the auction ring can display the animals breed, sex, and subsidy status to buyers.

One auctioneer at Barnkirk last week said: "This is what we have been waiting for. We spend far too much time at marts trying to identify animals and verify their subsidy status."

The mart system can also be used at abattoirs, and Canvin of Bedfordshire is the first to be geared up for the service.

Rodger Simms (left), director of Stock-Land Computer Systems, and Dave Scott, farm manager, Newton Stewart, who has tagged 500 cattle.