24 August 2001

Useful aid for breeding flocks

PRICES of electronic tags must fall if they are to be routinely used for identifying slaughter sheep.

But four Swaledale flock owners based in Cumbria are finding them useful for managing breeding flocks.

The four flocks have tagged about 1000 ewe lambs this year. Jonathon Dixon, one of the four flock owners from Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, tagged 400 Swaledale ewe lambs this spring.

"We became involved with electronic tagging because it provides foolproof identification and is the most efficient way to maintain complete management and breeding records of individual sheep."

Tags used by the group cost £1.55, but Mr Dixon believed prices must fall if they were to be used for slaughter sheep.

"They must be sensibly priced, then I believe the sheep industry will deliver the level of 100% traceability the government is seeking."

Biggest advantage accurate collation

ACCURATE data collation, with no risk of error, is cited by producers as the greatest advantage of electronic cattle tagging.

Cumbrian auctioneer, Michael Dickie of Harrison and Hetherington, has been co-ordinating the North West Tag Project for the past 18-months. He told the conference that official inspections of manually kept cattle records had shown that up to 30% contained errors.

"But with electronic tagging, data collection is 100% accurate. When a beast loses one of its tags, the electronic tag remains to verify its identity," said Mr Dickie.

But he was concerned that while high standards of traceability were expected from the UK, imported meat was not meeting the same strict criteria of identification. "There are still carcasses coming into the UK with no identification concerning country of origin, despite the problems we are facing with foot-and-mouth," said Mr Dickie.

He said tag cost would be a big issue for sheep producers if tagging was made compulsory. "In France, the government pays for and issues tags to livestock producers. The UK government should do likewise."

North West Tag Project members are paying £1-£1.50 for sheep tags and £2.50-£3 for cattle tags. Readers used to scan tags cost about £600, added Mr Dickie.

The project covers 20 farms in Cumbria and 10 in Northumberland. &#42

Prices will drop, says manufacturer

COST is the big issue among producers contemplating electronic tagging, but tag manufacturer a-Boca BV says prices will fall as uptake increases.

However, Dug Parry, the firms project manager, said traceability was not just the responsibility of producers. "We saw the need for a versatile reader to collect data from tags at all levels of the food chain from producers to hauliers, drivers, auctioneers, stock-handlers and abattoir staff. This led to us developing a universal reader, the Tagidentifier, that will read data across the full spectrum of the ISO tag standard range."

He believed electronic traceability would become compulsory in the livestock sector.

Despite the success of the cattle database scheme, he was surprised other livestock producers had not opted for electronic identification. Mr Parry said the government was clearly following a policy of increased traceability of sheep. But producers would find it an onerous task should they have to manually read every ear-tag number to fulfil possible future legislation along the lines of the cattle database.

"Electronic tagging of sheep is the obvious option to achieve the most efficient traceability system, but this must not be considered solely as a means of tracking all sheep movements.

"It also provides an efficient method for collecting and storing flock management data," said Mr Parry.