2 April 1999

Tag snags bring calls for tough action to MAFF

By James Garner

CATTLE tag loss rates are running at unacceptable levels for many producers, who are calling for tougher action on tag retention from MAFF.

Since the introduction of new cattle identification procedures some producers are reporting primary tag loss rates as high as 50%. The problems vary from tags breaking off in the ear to tearing through the ear.

The latter has serious welfare considerations and producers want MAFF to act before they are blamed for poor animal welfare.

Beef and dairy producer Nick Adames, Chessels Farm, Bognor, Sussex told FARMERS WEEKLY that some of his calves have one ear shredded in half from having large plastic tags ripped out.

He says that tags are too big for young calves fragile ears. "It would be more sensible to insert a metal tag at birth and then the larger one at eight or ten months old when the ear is unlikely to tear."

However, Welsh Farmers Union livestock committee chairman Paul Matthews says that losing primary plastic tags – up to 50% of them – is a greater problem in his suckler herd ."The tags keep breaking and I have now re-ordered them on three occasions."

He blames flawed legislation demanding use of large tags.

"We should move to smaller tags. Flag tags are a ridiculous size. Before we had compulsory double tagging and had to insert big tags with more information on we didnt have these problems."

Mr Matthews says legislators should have listened to farmers before designing tags and should consider these problems before introducing sheep tagging legislation.

"MAFF should consider moving to electronic inserts and more up-to-date identification systems which are not prone to failure.

"It takes time and labour to double-handle animals. You have to drive them in the race to read the tags to see which ones are missing. Then you have to do it again to insert a matching tag.

But NFU livestock and wool chairman David Williams says the problem with tag loss statistics is that no-one knows how well tags are being inserted.

"Im not criticising producers as its not an easy job. Animals dont stand still and the tag can easily end up where its not intended to be.

"Tag manufacturers suggest putting tags in the centre of ear and between blood vessels," he says.

"But we will be pushing MAFF to ensure that all tags are performing and to check one or two makes are not prone to falling out. Where this happens manufacturers will have to improve their design or be taken off the market."

But MAFFs response is that investigations show tags have been inserted incorrectly.

"We encourage reporting losses so performance can be monitored. Where there are excessive losses, we check the reasons. Often it is caused by using eartags which are no longer approved."

TAGGING LOSSES

&#8226 50% on some farms.

&#8226 Welfare concerns.

&#8226 Tag design at fault?