Allan Barber questions the reliability of the compulsory tagging of cattle and deer with officially approved RFID tags

By Allan Barber

A friend who has a lifestyle block near Warkworth recently asked me to take up the matter of the lack of reliability of NAIT records, citing his experience as evidence the system is still far from foolproof. I asked him to send me some details or even better to write to NAIT explaining his problem and asking for a response.

He sent a very clear and concise explanation marked for the attention of the Chief Executive about five weeks ago and has received a holding reply which said somebody would get back to him after Fielddays. Now the timeframe here isn’t particularly long, but what is of greater concern is the time taken to correct some fairly basic mistakes.

After all NAIT finally passed into law in February 2012, nearly 3½ years ago, after a gestation period which made an elephant’s pregnancy seem fast.

Yet we are still faced with a fundamental inability to guarantee the accuracy of cattle numbers on a property, as well as loopholes in the tag numbers that apply to those cattle.

My friend’s concerns started when he discovered a rogue heifer among his steers, scanned the tag and phoned NAIT to ask them to trace it, but without success.

He then discovered the NAIT system still recorded 60 cattle on his farm, although 15 of these had long since gone to the saleyard and then to the works for slaughter.

He checked NAIT’s movement records against his own and these matched, but he had no way of telling which of the cattle had left the property.

Apparently the NAIT system has now correctly recorded all the movements, but obviously this would have been far too late in the event of a disease outbreak. He also raised the question of replacing lost tags which farmers are required to do, but without a scanner neither the farm nor NAIT would be able to record the individual animal’s number.

Furthermore there are two different types of tag, one flat and one with a raised centre, and not all scanners work on both types of tag.

Armed with all this experience he then proceeded to contact other farmers and gave up after about 10 because he had been unable to find a single farmer who believed the NAIT book accurately corresponded to their actual stock on the farm. One stud breeder actually went to the trouble and expense of buying another set of traditional tags with the same numbers as the NAIT tags in case any of the cattle lost one tag (but hopefully not two).

As my friend says, this set of circumstances makes NAIT virtually useless in the event of a disease outbreak, without even taking into consideration the inevitable effect of not including sheep in NAIT. His suggestion is to ensure all farms have a scanner which can read both types of tag and is compatible with the NAIT system. Every farm would be responsible for scanning stock at least once a year and uploading the data to NAIT.

He also says scanners are available in the UK for less than $200, not the high cost being charged in New Zealand.

NAIT may have some logical responses to all these queries, but it is disappointing none of the farmers contacted has confidence in the accuracy of the system.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of at least eight years of hard work and the cost imposed on farmers since it passed into law in 2012.

If it is to gain farmers’ confidence, NAIT needs to address these issues urgently.


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Allan Barber is a commentator on agribusiness, especially the meat industry, and lives in the Matakana Wine Country. He is chairman of the Warkworth A&P Show Committee. You can contact him by email at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz or read his blog here ». This article first appeared in Farmers Weekly. It is here with permission.