28 June 2002

Tag loss variation shock

By Marianne Curtis

A RECENT survey reveals considerable differences in tag losses between manufacturers, with losses of up to 45% on some cattle farms. But tagging technique and animals surroundings also have an impact.

Conducted by Basil Lowman, beef specialist at SAC St Boswells, the survey, published in Promar Internationals Sheep and Beef Notes, involved interviews with 57 readers of the publication. Covering primary and secondary tags, it examined producer satisfaction with 19 different tag types.

"It was not a scientifically designed survey, so results should be treated cautiously, but there appeared to be clear differences in retention between tags from different manufacturers."

Producers taking part in the survey were using primary and secondary tags from six manufacturers: Ketchum, Allflex, Fearing, Shearwell, Ritchie and Dalton. For one primary tag style, losses as high as 45% were reported, with an average loss rate of 18.1%. However, for another manufacturer, primary tag losses were only 2%.

"A good indicator of a companys tag retention rates is whether it supplies replacement tags free of charge. Some replacement tag costs can be as high as £5 for one replacement tag. Companies selling tags with high retention rates tend to offer free replacement tags, so it is worth asking the question when you are changing supplier," says Dr Lowman.

Metal secondary tags, offered by five of the companies, had the lowest tag loss rates, from 0.6% to 2%. "Across all manufacturers, metal tags had better retention rates than plastic tags."

But for those concerned by high tag loss rates, reassurance about tag quality could soon come in the form of a British Standard (BSI) kitemark. Any tag sold as a UK official cattle ear tag will have to meet standards which have been presented by DEFRA to BSI, according to NFU meat industry adviser Barney Kay.

"DEFRA has conducted extensive studies on aspects such as strength, rigidity and flexibility of tags to find what is required. To supply official cattle tags, manufacturers will have to become accredited and will be reviewed by BSI each year to ensure standards are being maintained. Some manufacturers may need to revise current practices to meet these standards."

However, tag application remains one of the major factors responsible for tag loss, says Mr Kay. Dr Lowman agrees it has a bearing on tag retention rates. "Ideally, primary tags should be placed as close to the head as possible – between one-quarter and one-third of the way along the ear, starting from the head. The female part of the tag – which looks like a top hat – should be on the inside of the ear and the male part – a pin – on the outside of the ear."

As well as tag application, animals surroundings can also have an impact on tag losses. The survey showed for five out of the six manufacturers, most tag losses occurred in winter, according to Dr Lowman. "This indicates design of feed barriers or other areas where tags can be caught are major problems."

However, choosing which ear to place tags in can help reduce feed barrier related losses, he advises. "With barriers sloping diagonally up from left to right, avoid tagging in the left ear as this is dragged against the barrier when cattle remove their heads, increasing the likelihood of tag loss.

"If tag losses suddenly increase and you find many on the ground, look around for potential problems. One producer who had turned out young calves was suddenly finding tags along the fence line. Calves were putting their heads through the deer net fence which was causing tag losses." &#42

TAGLOSSES

&#8226 Differences between manufacturers.

&#8226 Check technique.

&#8226 Consider surroundings.