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How technology is used to improve the treaceability of our livestock

PUBLISHED: 15:35 09 April 2015 | UPDATED: 15:35 09 April 2015

Getty Images/Fuse

Getty Images/Fuse


Lambing is underway on my farm in the Cotswolds. As any sheep farmer will tell you, long days and sleepless nights in the lambing shed mean it’s one of the busiest and tiring times of the year but it’s also the most rewarding.

We plan well ahead so that the arrival of the first lambs coincides with the re-opening of our farm park; for many visitors the chance to witness a new little life coming in to the world is a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

This all comes at a time of change for many sheep farmers all over England. Standards of animal welfare and traceability in the UK are amongst the highest in the world and livestock ear tags are the most visible sign of that. Since the beginning of January there have been changes to the rules about lambs going to 
the abattoir as well as movement reporting of older ewes.

At the heart of it are EID (Electronic Identification) tags, the legislation for which was introduced five years ago. Each tag contains a tiny microchip which holds the individual animal’s number and can be read by a variety of devices. There are hand-held scanners for use out in the field, panel readers which can be installed at livestock markets and machines in portable walk-through units, like an arch, where a whole flock’s ID can be individually read.

All sheep intended for breeding had to have EID tags. However lambs under 12 months old intended for slaughter could be moved on a conventional, non-electronic tag. The new rules, which have just come in to force, mean that lambs under a year old also have to be EID tagged. At the same time, older ewes (the ‘historic’ flock) tagged before 2010 now have to be individually recorded when being moved, unless being sent directly to slaughter or transferred within the same ownership, when they can continue to be moved by batch recording; that’s reporting the total number of animals. However, many farmers will come to the conclusion that that electronic tagging their historic flock is the simplest solution.

Naturally the new rules won’t suit everybody. There have been some worries about how well the system will work and how much it is costing. The fact that Welsh farmers have the option not to electronically tag their slaughter lambs for another year has also become a talking point. Although some Welsh markets and abattoirs may have made commercial decisions to only accept electronically identified lambs. In the long term if it improves traceability and there’s proof that there’s an increase of public confidence in British farming, then it’s got to be good news.

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