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Electronic ID for production

By Monica Ley, Land Services Officer - Livestock

Some producers are now taking advantage of National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) tags to make herd and flock management easier and more efficient. Adding the influence of an increase in global market access, many producers, particularly with cattle, have found benefit in using the system to record their herd production – with added bonuses of reduction in labour and errors in data recording.

The NLIS was introduced in NSW in 2004, so the use of electronic identification is not a new concept for cattle producers. It is Australia’s scheme to not only identify but also trace and record livestock movements, and the system is crucial in protecting and enhancing Australia’s reputation as a producer of quality beef and sheep meat.

This reputation is upheld through the lifetime traceability the NLIS provides. Lifetime traceability allows and maintains access to necessary export markets such as the EU (European Single Market) and other global markets. The NLIS also reflects Australia's commitment and ability to respond quickly to major food safety or disease incidents using the NLIS database as a tracing tool. The NLIS database is an online record of your stock transfers, deaths and movements, and is easily accessible with a login associated with your PIC (Property Identification Code).

The compulsory introduction of NLIS tags in sheep and goats across Victoria from 2017 has shown that electronic identification (EID) is not just necessary for stock movements and biosecurity in the cattle industry. In 2016, a statewide NLIS compliance campaign was conducted focusing on sheep and goats across NSW to show the importance of the NLIS in ensuring a sustainable Australian agricultural industry. This campaign included conducting inspections of saleyards looking for incomplete National Vendor Declaration (NVDs) and post-breeder tag compliance. EID systems can offer a whole range of benefits on-farm, including improving record keeping, which saves labour and time for livestock producers.

So how can you use the system in your herd? White NLIS tags are already in the right ear of any cattle that have been bred on-farm, with orange post-breeder NLIS tags used for unidentified cattle or stock purchased from another property that have lost or damaged their device. The tags are already there to be used.

Sheep producers who choose to use NLIS within their flock or have bought sheep from Victoria in the last 12 months would have noticed the white NLIS tag and a pink post-breeder NLIS tag. These tags are not limited to recording stock movements and deaths. As well as stock transfers, the NLIS database also records basic carcass feedback information for any beasts that have been sent to the abattoir. This includes sex, dentition, age, fat (mm), carcass weight, bruising and grade. Normally, carcass feedback information is uploaded to the NLIS database automatically by abattoir software programs, but sometimes this information is left out of reports, particularly for smallholders or those who rarely use abattoirs. If you notice blanks in your NLIS database Carcass Feedback Query reports and are after more information on your slaughtered stock, consider contacting your abattoir as they should have the full reports on file.

What can you record on farm?
Within a livestock enterprise, individual animals can have a substantial variation in the characteristics that influence their production level. Identifying and understanding this variation provides opportunities to apply selection pressure, or better inform management decisions throughout the livestock enterprise. There have been many success stories of using EID recording in stock for production gains and monitoring individual, flock or herd performance. Electronic tagging allows this variation to be captured through measuring the performance of individual animals. It also enables the producer to apply decisions specific to that individual, reducing costs and labour, while at the same time maximising returns. While carcass traits are already recorded off-farm after slaughter, there are many on-farm uses for NLIS.

To be able to use NLIS data on-farm, you ultimately need a goal. Why are you using EID recording? What do you plan on recording? How will this benefit your farming system overall, and what do you hope to achieve? There is a large range of recording technology tools available on the market. A hand-held reader and a computer is all that is required to achieve the goals of most producers.

On-farm benefits of EID/ NLIS recording include being able to monitor and measure:
  • Individual animal weight gain/ growth rates
  • Wool flock – fibre diameter, fleece weight
  • Health issues, vaccine and parasite control history and relevant withholding periods and selective drenching
  • Oestrous (heat) detection, pregnancy scanning data, genetics/bloodlines, breeding history and maternal matching
  • Supplement history.
Monitoring the weight gain or growth rates of individual animals ensures data to support decisions about when animals are ready for sale. Using this information would be beneficial in systems where animals are sent to a target market.

For example, a producer is targeting lambs to be sold at 24kgs live weight. The mob of lambs’ current weight ranges from 15-22kgs. It is certain that every animal in the mob will gain weight at a different rate. Some lambs may be gaining 450gms/day, where others may only be gaining 30gms/day. A 15kg lamb gaining 450gms/day will only take 20 days to get to a target weight of 24kgs, whereas a 22kg lamb gaining just 30gms/day will take 67 days to get to 24kgs. Feeding a lamb for 20 days to gain 9kgs live weight could be considered cost-efficient if the price of the feed is less than the additional income received for the heavier lamb. Selling the lamb at 22kgs is far more cost-effective compared with feeding a lamb for 67 days just to gain a further 2kgs live weight.

Economic decisions about feed costs are not just limited to weight gain. They can also apply to breeding animals. Some producers choose to have additional identification management strategies within their flock or herd such as a colour visual management tag or branding. For NLIS or EID to be effectively and efficiently used, these identification management strategies should be recorded as being paired with the relevant NLIS tag and the RFID (radio-frequency identification) contained within the tags. If an animal loses its NLIS tag and there is no other system to know specifically the history of the individual animal, lifetime traceability is lost.

Tips to remember
  1. Only record data that will add value to your livestock enterprise.
  2. Always keep data collection simple and direct. Do this through sticking to your goals.
  3. Implement a secondary identification system such as management tags or branding.
  4. There’s no point in collecting data unless you are using it to make management decisions. Don’t collect data for the sake of collecting it, as the more data collected, the harder it is to manage.
  5. You cannot manage something you don’t measure. Start small and specific, such as recording animal health treatments or pregnancy scanning results.

If you would like more information on using EID/ NLIS in your flock or herd, contact your livestock advisor or Livestock Officer at Murray Local Land Services on 1300 795 299.