Business Farming

Thursday 2 October 2014

Tagging is additional work but can help to improve the overall management

Tom Boland

Published 23/04/2014 | 02:30

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IDENTIFICATION: An EID tag set (conventional mart tag and a matching EID tag) is required to identify breeding sheep born after December 31, 2009 when they reach nine months old and all other sheep born since December 31, 2009 when they reach 12 months old

The National Sheep Identification System (NSIS) is the Irish implementation of an EU-wide system governing the identification and registration of sheep set down in December 2003.

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Under NSIS, sheep flock keepers must be registered, sheep must be identified (with tags or boluses), the total numbers and details of all sheep on farms must be recorded annually and sheep movements on and off the farms must be fully recorded in an on-farm flock register.

Understandably, this new legislation, paperwork, cost and workload was met with some resistance on its implementation, not least of which was the welfare concerns surrounding tagging of sheep.

An important change to the original system is that all sheep born since December 31, 2009 must retain one tag number for life, from the holding of origin (though certain specific exceptions do apply).

There are a number of different tags which can be used, though there are very specific criteria for their use:

* Single conventional slaughter tag – minimum requirement for lambs under 12 months old and this can only be used where the lamb is leaving the farm for slaughter. It cannot be used for lambs going for sale through a mart.

* Single conventional mart tag – minimum requirement for lambs under 12 months being sold through a mart to a dealer or to another farmer.

* EID tag set or Bolus set – an EID tag set (conventional mart tag and a matching EID tag) or EID bolus set (conventional mart tag and matching EID ruminal bolus) is required to identify breeding sheep born after December 31 2009 when they reach nine months old and all other sheep born since December 31, 2009 when they reach 12 months old.

* In addition, all sheep for live export must also be fitted with either an EID tag set or bolus set prior to export, regardless of age, if they have been born since December 31, 2009.

* Single electronic tag – this is a recommendation rather than a requirement for lambs being sold through the mart.

* Replacement tags – this refers to when the original tag has been lost and the animal cannot be traced back to its farm of origin.

Individual flock owners can also elect to have management information included on the blank part of the NSIS tag at time of ordering.

The exact procedures are set out in the National Sheep Identification System (a step-by-step guide).

The tagging process needs to be carried out correctly, regardless of which of the above options is selected.

Tags and taggers should be clean and every effort made to ensure tags are inserted as hygienically as possible.

There are anecdotal reports of very high incidences of infection and, consequently, lost tags.

This has occurred both with tagging during the summer and winter, but the general recommendation would be to avoid tagging during the summer where possible.

At the UCD farm in Lyons Estate, our approach is to spray the tagger, tags and sheep's ear with methylated spirits prior to insertion of the tag. Obviously this is repeated for every animal.

For many years we have tagged our lambs at birth and for many years we have encountered problems with joint ill.

We conducted research to determine if this joint ill was caused by the tagging of the lamb and the evidence conclusively showed that it was not the tagging that was causing our problem.

We have now made a number of changes to our lambing management, resulting in much less handling of the wet lamb.

This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the incidence of joint ill.

Where farmers are thinking of tagging lambs at birth, I suggest waiting a minimum of 24 hours before doing so.

While tagging may be seen as a nuisance on many farms, it does greatly enhance the opportunities for record keeping, tracking performance and improved selection of animals for culling and replacement selection.

Record collection

The data clearly indicates that the rate of progress in the sheep industry has been slower than many of our competitor industries.

There are a multitude of reasons for this, but inadequate record collection is certainly one.

With individual sheep identification a part of our production systems for the foreseeable future, farmers should grasp the opportunities this provides to record, benchmark and improve the performance of the flocks.

The recent advent of the Teagasc Better Farm project highlights the productivity gains which can be made through recording and improving individual animal and flock performance.

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