31 May 2002

Marts weak link in electronic ID uptake

THE half-hearted approach of auction marts to electronic cattle identification is making them the weakest link in the uptake of new technology for monitoring stock movements.

"Auction marts should be taking a lead in electronic cattle identification," said David Jones of the computer software firm Newline, which works in conjunction with electronic tag maker Allflex.

He believes UK auction marts are lagging behind in their adoption of electronic identification (EID) systems. So far, Carlisle-based auctioneers Harrison and Hetherington could provide producers with the facility to electronically identify stock. A scheme for several markets in Cornwall was being developed.

"The cost is not prohibitive. Grants are available and DEFRA is keen to help. Electronic readers are in the hundreds of £s bracket and electronic ringside display boards cost about £4000," said Mr Jones

He said there were huge advantages in terms of efficient monitoring of stock movement and avoiding errors associated with manual checking of ear-tags.

"When stock move through a market where no one is grabbing at the ears of cattle to check numbers, stress is minimised and you realise the benefits to sellers, buyers, market staff and stock."

Other benefits of EID mean beef producers selling finished cattle can invoke all movement licences and passports from the farm office, via their computer.

A Beef 2002 demonstration put a bunch of prime Charolais steers through the Wooler auction ring to simulate the advantages of EID. "We want to show how it can save time and effort and provide an efficient monitoring system for producers.

"For suckled calf producers tagging calves at birth everything can be done by e-mail – from notifying BCMS of calf birth dates, issuing of passports and notifying auction marts," said Chris Melhuish of Allflex.

Using an electronic reader in the race at Wooler, the demonstration showed how quickly and easily ID of cattle arriving at a market could be checked against paper passports in the office.

Details of each animal – again identified by a reader as the animal moves into the sale ring – are displayed at the ringside. All relevant information concerning each animal sold is then sent via e-mail to the buyer to be logged into his system before the animal arrives.

"The system electronically records and monitors an animals movements into and out of an auction and onto the next farm. There is no paper to push around and no risk of typographical errors, as there is no need to type in numbers during any transfers," said Mr Melhuish.

He added that electronic tags cost £3.25 each and a reader is about £700. Allflex estimate about 200,000 UK cattle are now carrying electronic tags. &#42