John Fagan: EID tagging is a futile exercise with no benefits for farmers

John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
John Fagan

John Fagan

When I headed to Spain in May for a break I had no idea that I would be taking the weather back with me.

We are crying out for rain here in Westmeath as is the entire country. I had hoped to be making the mother of all silage cuts around the first week of July, but ground is starved for moisture and tonnage will be well down.

I have made haylage where I could, but it looks like it is something that I am going to be doing until the end of September. Farms and farmers are under serious pressure.

Unless things change around pretty quickly we are heading for another long year of fodder shortages so I'd start preparing for it now.

I have held back weaning. I was in two minds about it. With the extremely hot weather I am concerned that weaning lambs and ewes in the midst of a heatwave would place undue stress on animals, I am going to wait for things to cool down a bit and then wean. I have also ordered meal for lambs.

It's inevitable that lambs are going to be late finished this year so unless I want to get stuck with hundreds of lambs here at Christmas, I better act now. It happened me in 2012,

That year I had loads of lambs and it pretty much rained the entire summer, I was too stubborn to buy any meal thinking that I could finish everything off on grass only to be left with an overhang of stock in spring 2013 and we all know how that year went.

So, I have made the decision that as soon as I wean, all lambs above 38kg will get meal and I will reduce stock on the farm as quickly as possible.

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I dosed all my lambs recently and they also got a cobalt dose. They are doing well I just think it's a year to handle stock and the weaning process carefully.

I had my Bord Bia inspection in mid-June which I thankfully passed. It's always stressful enough. You think that you are going to get tripped up over something but it went really well.

This year's inspection was the first time that it was done using 'Herdwatch'. I have been recording all remedy usage on my phone for the last 18 months and I have to say it makes life very easy.

The nature of cross compliance is such that being instantly able to record procedures means that you have no issues when it comes to compliance. If you want to stay on top of office work it's the only way to go.

I'm looking forward to the feedback from the big sheep event this year in Athenry. I hope sheep farmers make sure to voice their opposition to the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, on the introduction of mandatory EID tagging.

The Minister's line is that it will save us time, improve traceability and gain us access to new markets. I don't believe this is credible.

In its current form, EID tagging is a cost being dumped on farmers which has little or no benefit for sheep farmers and all the time saving is in the lairage of the factory.

Improvement in traceability is questionable as when a carcass goes to a boning hall the electronic tag placed in the lamb's ear only hours before is now in a skip.

The benefits of traceability to my mind are no different to the benefits that already exist with the current system.

If EID tagging was to benefit sheep farmers it would do so by double tagging lambs at birth and compiling a computerised database or record of breeding and other such events on your farm similar to what a pedigree breeder already does.

A pair of EID tags costs €1.35, the current factory tag costs €0.18, therefore the cost of EID tagging for me goes from €270 to over €2,000 for 1,500 lambs. This is what I roughly produce each year on the farm.

The costs of the software and equipment for EID tagging is anything from €800-€1,500 depending on the type of equipment you want to go for and don't forget the extra hassle that's involved with putting on these tags.

I'll look well next Spring running around after new born lambs with a tagger in one hand and an electronic wand in the other.

What new markets are we going to benefit from if there are no lambs to supply factories?

I say this as I think we're going to see a reduction in the national flock this year as a result of the aging profile of sheep farmers and a lack of new entrants into the industry.

Last spring has put the nail in the coffin for a lot of older sheep farmers.

They physically can't keep it going and hammering them with more bureaucracy in the form of EID tagging makes the decision to get out that bit easier.

Unless the Minister for Agriculture changes his tune towards sheep farming I believe he'll be leaving a sad legacy behind him.

The sheep welfare scheme is a welcome scheme but the fact that it's only payable on mature ewes is not sensible. It should be available on replacement ewe lambs as well.

All sheep farmers know that replacement sheep clearly form an essential part of any well-managed flock.

It's weird that they weren't catered for.

On top of this, surely there is scope to increase the sheep welfare payment to all farmers to compensate for EID's introduction?

It's already under-subscribed. The money is there to be used. I really believe that adjusting the terms of the sheep welfare scheme will solve this controversy and benefit both processors and farmers and in the end and will be seen as a commitment from government that they have our backs.

To do otherwise is a slap in the face.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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