Red tape sheep tag pledge from union adviser
By Marianne Curtis
SHEEP tagging legislation, due to be introduced this September, will not mean extra paperwork, according to MAFF. However, a likely delay in implementation could put export trade at risk.
Although there are industry fears that the legislation – due to be implemented on Sept 1 this year – will mean additional recording, policy adviser at the NFU, Carol Lloyd says this is not the case.
"Sheep must be identified from their holding of birth using a tag bearing the flock number or a tattoo. However, when sheep are moved the paint mark system will continue to apply, overriding tags and tattoos."
This is confirmed by a MAFF spokesperson who adds that no additional documentation will be required and producers wont have to record sheep ID numbers when they leave the holding.
However, the nature of ID numbers is still open for debate through the consultation process which ends in June. A change from the current alpha numeric to an all numeric system is favoured by some to avoid future changes, as happened with cattle tags, according to Ms Lloyd.
"An all numeric system would be more compatible with electronic ID if the industry moves towards this in future. MAFF are keen to pre-empt future ID requirements which may mean moving down the all numeric route, however, this will delay the implementation of legislation."
This delay concerns NSA chief executive John Thorley, who believes lamb export markets are vulnerable. "Supposing France starts to put pressure on us for not complying with the EU directive already in place on sheep tagging, it could cause a serious nuisance, threatening our export trade."
But identifying sheep will mean extra work and expense for a hard pressed industry, warns Mr Thorley. "If this is what consumers or the Government want why wont they pay for it?"
According to leading manufacturers, tags cost 12-15p/lamb. But tag losses can be high, says FARMERS WEEKLY On Our Farms contributor Tim Green, who farms in Vimer, France, where tagging legislation has been in place for the last three years.
"We tag at lambing, but tag losses can be up to 20%. Lambs frequently poke their heads through hedges and netting which means small, brittle plastic tags can be lost quite easily. This means animals have to be re-tagged."
Fortunately for UK producers – especially those lambing outside – providing lambs are tagged before they leave their holding of birth, there is no need to tag when they are born.
"MAFF have shown a degree of flexibility on this legislation, which is good to see," says Alastair Davy of the Hill Farming Initiative.
"Tagging sheep just before they leave the farm seems to be the most sensible approach and will also help to avoid problems with flies which tagged lambs may be susceptible to," says Mr Davy.
The type of tag used can also be important for avoiding fly strike and other injuries associated with tagging, according to David Edwards of the Royal Vet College who has recently completed research on the subject.
"Anchor tags – applied using a blade – and metal loop tags cause far more lesions than plastic tags. Lambs tagged with the former may be more susceptible to fly strike."
Rigid plastic lamb tags, while causing less injury, are more likely to be broken or lost; so flexible plastic flap-like tags, although cumbersome in young lambs may be more suitable.
But he believes button tags offer the most promise. "These cause the least injury to lambs ears and are easily applied. Currently, however, they are mainly used for electronic tagging but could be adapted to a conventional form."
Tattooing may seem an attractive way of avoiding tag losses and problems with fly strike but for dark-headed lambs reading tattoos can be difficult, warns Ms Lloyd.
Legislation later this year.
No extra paperwork.
Concerns over fly-strike.
• Legislation later this year.
• No extra paperwork.
• Concerns over fly strike.