Only about 1% of Irish herd keepers have electronic identification tagging for cattle

The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) has called for mandatory electronic identification tagging (EID) of cattle in Ireland - despite only about 1% of current herd keepers opting for EID, which the Department of Agriculture already provides for in its current contract for supply of bovine tags.
Only about 1% of Irish herd keepers have electronic identification tagging for cattle

The EID tags cost about 1 more than conventional tags.

EU member states are obliged to have EID facilities (electronic tag or bolus) in place by July 2019 — and can choose to make EID compulsory from that date.

Minister Simon Coveney says he has no plans to introduce mandatory EID for bovine animals, due to the poor response from herdowners — but his Department will keep the position under review.

“It is difficult to project the precise exchequer savings, if any, that would accrue following the mandatory introduction of EID,” said the Minister.

However, ICOS estimates the Department could save several million euros per year, because EID could end the need for animal passports.

Feeding systems, fertility, health and welfare monitoring are all possible with EID. Ray also said “EID on cattle would make them more attractive to some potential buyers, both at home and abroad. The major purchasers of our live exports are big feed lots, whether they be in Spain, the Netherlands or Italy, and they have embraced EID technology. If it was a mandatory system, Irish cattle would be even more attractive as a result”.

Improved health and safety of farmers, mart and meat factory staff, is the main advantage seen by ICOS.

The co-operatives organisation’s livestock and environmental services executive, Ray Doyle, said: “Currently, we have to physically read tags on animals.

“These tags can often be covered by muck and have to be cleaned and read. Farmers or mart and meat factory staff have to lean in over the animal to try to read them.

"There is an obvious health and safety risk there. If bovine EID is in place, one can simply have a race reader over the animals and all animals will be read instantly from several metres away with no health and safety risk to anybody”.

In a recent presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Doyle said faster cattle movement data would be another advantage.

Real-time movement data means if a farmer sells an animal through a mart, the Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) national database would be instantly updated, rather than at the end of the mart sale day which is currently the case.

Increased accuracy of tag number recordings, and paperless traceability in the food chain are other advantages claimed by ICOS.

An EID bolus or a subcutaneous vial would almost eliminate cattle rustling in its current form, Mr Doyle told the Oireachtas Committee.

Given that each individual EID has a unique code, one cannot tamper with them or create a different code.

With all those advantages for a small extra cost, why haven’t Ireland and other EU countries embraced the technology? Denmark is the only European country to adopt EID as a compulsory measure.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand have adopted it in a full mandatory manner.

Here, EID has been required in breeding sheep since 2010. But many sheep farmers do not use it for flock management routines like recording number of lambs born per ewe, dosing details, etc.

For older farmers, electronic tagging and the requirement for a handheld reader might be quiet daunting. With Irish suckler herd statistics showing that 48% of suckler herds have 10 cows or less, EID tagging represents no big advantage to these farmers, because they can quiet easily keep paper records.

Along with the somewhat limited benefit of EID for many Irish beef farmers, there is the cost of handheld EID readers to consider, if farmers are to take full advantage of the technology.

Without EUID, their paperwork and risk of errors have been reduced by availability of the Department of Agriculture’s Agfood.ie online facilities.

Calf births, animal movements, and animal data such as calving difficulty, calf quality etc, can all be recorded easily online or on smartphones, through approved apps.

For those reasons, compulsory EID is unlikely to be received well in Ireland, and it is not likely to be implemented anytime soon.

However, Irish dairy farmers could make better use of it, for use in feed to yield systems and for recording management data such as cows treated with antibiotics, date dried off, etc — removing the need for the separate electronic ID collar which many farmers use.

In Ireland, mandatory EID would likely benefit the staff in marts and meat factories rather than farmers. Faster processing and reduced labour requirement for reading tags could be the payoffs for meat processors.

Perhaps a two or three year period where farmers can voluntary switch to EID before the introduction of mandatory EID may allow farmers to gradually embrace the technology.

EID identification technology a worldwide success

Bovine EID is a radio frequency identification technology. It is used extensively in identification of dogs and sheep.

Some larger dairy units have voluntarily adopted EID for better management of feeders, yield monitoring, and robotic milkers.

All types of bovine EID have a unique code embedded into transponders. These transponders can be bolus type, subcutaneous vials (as in dog identification), or a tag or button-based, standard, readable tags. These transponders can be low frequency or ultra high frequency (UHF). Low frequency is a tried and tested old technology and is preferred by the European Commission because it is an old technology.

This low frequency is ideal for close range single readings. However, in a livestock mart or a busy meat processing plant, because of the speed at which one needs to read tags, UHF is probably better, because it offers increased range and larger data storage possibilities.

Not only is it able to identify the code more quickly and easily, there is also much more data storage available for people to record anthelminthic or prescription medicines, for example. This information can all be stored on the tags.

Former Scottish beef farmer of the year Robert Neill is an EID fan — having got the opportunity to study its use around the world, as a 2013 UK Nuffield scholar.

In Australia, where electronic ear tags are compulsory since 1999, Robert found hauliers scanning all cattle into their lorries as they are all loaded up a single file chute. If a tag did not read or has been lost, the animal cannot be transported. The driver prints off a document with all the tag numbers listed.

In Canada, where EID has been compulsory since 2006, he found that feedlot operators could more easily record data such as movements, weights and drug administration. The large abattoirs benefited from faster throughput of animals, without the risk of error that goes with manual tag reading.

On New Zealand dairy farms, electronic tagging has been compulsory since 2006.

The electronic tag is read when a cow enters the parlour, enabling automatic feed to yield If she had been treated with antibiotics, a message can be relayed via a speaker system to tell the milker the cow’s milk must be discarded.

For a number of years, Robert has been using EID for weight monitoring and herd health management on his farm in the Scottish Borders, which has 300 Limousin cross suckler cows, with all progeny finished on home grown forage and concentrates.

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