8 December 2000

Cornwall on cutting edge of electronics

By John Burns

South-west correspondent

ELECTRONIC identification (EID) of cattle is catching on fast in Cornwall with about 17,500 cattle fitted with electronic eartags in this county alone, and its auction marts are gearing up for the electronic revolution as well.

Leading the way is St Austell, which auctioneers Jefferys describe as "the first market south of Carlisle with a fully EID system".

In practical terms, the system at St Austell is not yet fully electronic. To have a fully functional electronic identification system, cattle identities must be read as they arrive.

This information then passes electronically into the markets record system, where it is matched to passports and other data supplied by the farmer on a floppy disc.

At a recent demonstration of Jefferys system at St Austell, initial identification of an animal was done manually. The following reading was an automatic one, given as cattle entered the crush just before the sale ring.

Soon St Austell will have hand-held equipment to read electronic tags when cattle arrive, said Jefferys. And it expected to have the ultimate in electronic identification technology – a stick antenna – up and running by the end of January.

This will read tags and automatically enter data in the markets recording system.

John Keast, consultant to Jefferys and chairman of South West Livestock Auctioneers Association, gave a whole host of reasons why marts will benefit from adopting electronic identification.

He said these included improved safety and welfare of both cattle and staff, absolute accuracy of identification, and ability to transfer as much information as required from farmer to buyer.

This means all manner of details, including feeding and veterinary treatments as well as breeding and movements history could be recorded if needed. In time, he believed, it would offer enough benefits to buyers to warrant them paying a small premium.

Farmer David Lawry, chairman of Claytag, the group which started EID trials in Cornwall four years ago, said farmers would benefit.

He explained: "Once you put the tag in the calfs ear and read it with the hand-held, you can transfer the information to your main computer and the software program automatically applies for a passport.

"Any treatments are recorded via the hand-held and you can supply whatever information your buyers want on a floppy disc. The movement form is filled in by your computer, and it also keeps the necessary movement records.

"The tags are easy to use and loss rates are very low. None have been lost from my herd in the four years we have used them."

In Cornwall, all EID trials have been supported by European grants from LEADER projects, and it is hoped that a major project to ensure all cattle in Cornwall are recorded electronically will be funded by Objective 1 grants.

Allflexs John Bailey said a pair of cattle tags – the official one and a matching electronic one – cost about £2.70 and a hand-held reader about £500.

Hallworthy market, in north Cornwall, is also preparing to deal with cattle that carry electronic identification. Currently, it has the hand-held reader, but not the loop antenna. So St Austell is marginally ahead at present. &#42

Using a hand-held reader and electronic tags will benefit farmers as well, says David Lawry. He reckons he is yet to lose an electronic tag in his herd.

EID IN MARKETS

&#8226 Improves safety and welfare.

&#8226 Increases accuracy.

&#8226 More information on animals.