11 February 2000

REDUCES STRESS – AND MISTAKES

ELECTRONIC tagging has made life easier for Borders farmer Keith Redpath.

He began using electronic tags to identify his 100-head pedigree Limousin suckler herd at Ninewells Mains, Chirnside, just over two years ago.

"It has made things much easier for me, and for the cattle," he says.

"Theres no more wrestling with animals in the crush to try and read ear numbers. You just fill the race and go along with the hand-held reader. When it beeps, you know all the information about a beast has been captured.

"You cut out an awful lot of the stress involved, for the farmer and for the stock. And you cut out the risk of mis-reading a number or writing it down incorrectly," he says. Its then a case of downloading data from the reader straight on to a computer.

But Mr Redpath, vice-chairman of the Scottish Beef Council and a member of the National Beef Associations executive board, says there is a downside to the existing technology.

The Allflex tags he uses carry a 64-digit random number in the microchip rather than the animals unique UK identification number. The electronic reader scans the chip, and that information is then linked to individual animals by the computer software.

"This means that every beast you sell or move has to have a floppy disk accompanying it so that the new owner can link the ear-tag reading to the animals UK identification number," he says.

"I see that as a major problem for introducing a national electronic identification system, although Allflex says that it should have a new chip available soon that contains an animals all-numeric number."

Revolution

That, he believes, will revolutionise electronic identification.

At the moment, electronic tagging costs him about £3 a beast, compared with just £1 for a standard set of tags. But the price will fall, he believes, if a national electronic identification scheme is introduced.

Mr Redpath says the loss rate of the button tags is no higher than with the compulsory distance-readable tags. "In the time Ive been using them, I reckon the loss rate is no higher than 1-2%," he says.

Should the Scottish Executive implement a national system of electronic cattle identification, he believes that tags are the only option.

"I would not put a bolus into a day-old calf and I would be extremely worried about the possibility of an abattoir being unable to find it and it ending up on someones dinner plate. The same worry applies to chips implanted under the skin. With ear tags, you can see instantly if one is missing."

A national scheme would save time for auctioneers, abattoir operators and farmers, he believes.

Reassurances

It also offers a huge opportunity for the Scottish beef industry to offer Brussels and international buyers the reassurances they want on traceability.

"At the moment, the Date-Based Export Scheme is too restrictive to help us export beef. Anything that would ease restrictions and allow meaningful exports has to be a good thing," Mr Redpath says. &#42

Keith Redpath says electronic tagging cuts out a lot of stress for producers and stock and eliminates potential transcription mistakes when handling cattle.