Tagging Along

More on the future livestock tagging saga, I’m afraid:

I know I had a bit of a ‘rant’ yesterday, but the madness continues.  I contacted the company from which we purchase our tags, place an order.  I enquired whether there has been any decision made concerning the revised tagging laws (i.e. double tagging etc) & was advised that no formal directive has as yet been issued; however the laws are shceduled to change in mid-January & it would appear that all farm animals born after that date, will need to be double tagged, with tags still of the owner’s choice.  I honestly cannot see what benefit this second tag might bring: both tags would contain exactly the same management information & all that will happen is that the risk of torn ears, infections etc will be doubled – & the countryside will be turned into some sort of bizarre Pat Butcher lookalike competition with all livestock sporting what appear to be huge plastic earrings!  The other thing it will double for already hard-hit farmers, is cost: obviously, double the number of tags will now have to be purchased – & with food prices rising due to poor crop yields after the diastrous summer, the farmers will be expected to absorb this other additional cost, themselves – the supermarkets certainly wouldn’t be sympathetic.  In order to attempt to alleviate the burden a little, defra are negotiating that only breeding animals need to be double tagged, with those earmarked (no pun intended!) for meat at birth requiring only a single tag, which at least seems a sensible compromise & for many will reduce costs (although as all our goats are bred with the intention of being breedng animals – male or female – it doesn’t exactly help much.  And as you have to purchase consecutively-marked tags, inevitably there will be some wasteage as if some animals only require a single tag, some of the numbers for the other ears’ batch will inevitably be redundant – so this is a case of ‘want not, waste not’ as opposed to ‘waste not, want not’ – as we don’t want the second bloomin’ tag, in the first place!

However, worse is yet to come.  The EU is looking at bringing in Electronic Identification (EID) tags by the middle of next year.  The smallest tag which will take a microchip that we can use, is the button tag; & I certainly wouldn’t want to subject any of our goat kids to having one of those punched into his or her ear at only six to nine months of age.  It is not yet clear (no surprises there as even the laws coming out in January aren’t – & we are already in November) whether double tagging will still be required; & if so, whether one tag will be an EID tag with the other being a standard, plastic tag or whether both will need to be EIDs.  Not only is the size & weight of the tag an issue; but again, cost is also a factor: whilst standard tags range in price from approximately 10p each, EID tag prices start at £2.50 each – a huge hike in cost by anyone’s standards.  So for example, to theoretically tag a lamb earmarked as a breeding ewe, the price in the next six months could go from 10p to 20p to £5.  Farmers just can’t afford this; many couldn’t afford the extra £2.30 for the single EID tag – so it could be the proverbial straw that breaks much of the farming industry’s back.  And whilst many would say it was the fault of farmers that double tagging has been introduced – for not adhering to the law even though we were warned – the EID issue is a different matter altogether.

To put it into perspective for the average consumer, quality Welsh lambs sold in our local market are fetching only 75p per kilo; which when you consider the profit margin enjoyed by the supermarkets, is appallingly low.  And if the supermarket puts on a ‘buy one, get one free’ promotion it is wholly imposed on the butcher from whom the meat is purchased – the supermarket absorbs none of that extra cost.  So if a butcher has to do a ‘supermarket special’ on legs of lamb, for example, not only does he have to effectively provide four legs for the price of two to the store, he also has to find ways to get rid of the rest of the carcass (now surplus meat) generated from having to buy in extra lambs to keep up with the consumer demand for the legs – much of it now virtually worthless.  Many people will have a leg of lamb to enjoy as a Sunday roast, the ‘luxury meal’ of the week – but I can assure you, it’s not the farmer or butcher who’s getting fat on the profits. 

Meanwhile the saga continued.  Shortly after having ordered my tags I received a return ‘phone call from the company from whom I’d ordered, to say that as part of their legal requirement they have to contact defra to confirm the flock number tallies with our CPH (issued Holding number) & that the tag numbers (i.e. 1-100 or whatever) are also acceptable.  I was advised that – for our sheep – whilst our flock number had been confirmed as matching our CPH & address etc, defra were insisting we had to start the tag numbers from 41 onwards.  Had we owned sheep before?  No. 

I started to get a horrible sense of dejà vû; it has been almost a two-year battle, just to iron out problems with our CPH, flock & herd numbers when we were originally, incorrectly, issued with a new CPH rather than retaining that which is permanently allocated to the Ffarm – & I had the distinct unease that yet again, something wasn’t right. 

I called our local Animal Health Divisional Office to try & determine the root of the problem.  What I suspect has happened, is that we have mistakenly been issued with the CPH’s former flock number, which was assigned to the previous owner of the Ffarm.  However as seems to be customary, I was pushed around between various departments before I gave up in despair having run out of time – nobody seemed to have sufficient knowledge of the system to give me a definitive answer; nor even a contact number for the appropriate office in defra to determine why they won’t issue numbers 1-40 (which is odd in itself as tags can only be purchased in multiples of 50). 

My obvious concern, is that if there has been Yet Another Mistake we will have tagged the lambs incorrectly – & despite being defra’s error, they are invariably unsympathetic & would doubtless insist we re-tag the animals with another revision of our Flock Number – which would mean more distress to our animals (especially as we’d have to remove the incorrect tags, which could well result in – yes you guessed it – infection of the wound), & more expense for us as we’d have to purchase yet another new set of tags.  It is, frankly,  getting ridiculous. 

I called the tag company again; & discussed the matter with their ever-helpful staff.  I came to the conclusion that as this was what defra has dictated, we’ll go along with it; & I’ll write to the Animal Health Office, yet again, with my concerns….just as soon as the lambs have been sold at the market, that is!

Ohhhh, can’t you tell it’s a Friday?!  I was supposed to be doing some Welsh revison with Katherine as she’s been away on holiday & wanted to ‘play catch-up’; after which we’d have some lunch & I could pop into town to run some errands & get a quick haircut as I’m sporting ‘ye olde english sheepdoggy’ look, again.  I had intended to arrive at Maes Y Derw, by around 11am; however I was still doing battle on the tag issue by 1pm.  I managed to escape by about 1.30pm, but by then there was only time to have lunch before I had to rush into town for my haircut, then hurry up & down the high street to get all my bits & pieces done, returning to Maes Y Derw at around 4pm. 

I then put Katherine through her paces, with some Welsh revision; unfortunately there was much for her to catch up on as she had missed two lessons, having been away for the previous fortnight.  We worked pretty intensively & I even wet through the dreaded nasal mutations with her – but by 6pm we’d both had enough.  A quick trip to the local supermarket & then I was on my way back to the ffarm, having forgotton to turn on the arrivals yard light before I left, so everything was plunged into pitch darkness – not ideal when you’re fumbling with your keys!

I hastily completed the evening chores (having fallen completely out of favour with the Milkforce & the Hooligans, who were extremely cross that they’d been left outside – shock horror – after dark) then collapsed into a chair with a bowl of sweetcorn chowder & a chunk of crusty bread, before excitedly leafing through the latest set of ice cream books I’d ordered which had arrived in the post today, & doing yet more Welsh revision until it sent me cross-eyed with confusion & exhaustion, & I had to turn off the light for sleep, my head still buzzing.


About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, Business, Diary, Farming, Life, Livestock, November 2007, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

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