Re-tagging may shield prices

Farmers will be left out of pocket if they fail to electronically tag their sheep at the start of the new year, industry leaders warned.

New rules for sheep identification come in on New Year’s Day which mean all breeding sheep moving to another farm, holding, or anywhere other than direct to slaughter – including through a market – will need to have their individual tag number recorded.

The matter has been a cause for concern for farmers and a series of meetings have been held in recent months to prepare them for the changes.

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Chris Dodds, executive secretary at the Livestock Auctioneers Association, said there could be financial repercussions in the sales rings if farmers neglected to adopt the new electronic identification system (EID).

“Livestock auction markets sell more than eight out of every ten cull sheep,” Mr Dodds said.

“Competitive bidding in the live auction ring, from multiple different buyers, results in nearly half of these ewes moving out of markets to non-abattoir holdings - feeding farms, pre-slaughter lairage farms, etc - which means that vendors, auction market staff and buyers will be required to read and record all of these ear tag numbers under UK and EU law. Doing so without the use of electronic identification is unrealistic for the number of sheep involved.

“If some vendors choose not to re-identify their cull ewes with full EID it would not surprise me to hear auctioneers announcing at the time of sale that such pens of ewes can only be purchased and moved directly to slaughter, due to the complications of manually reading their ear tag numbers if they do not move from the market directly to an abattoir. This will obviously have an impact on the price achievable for them. So it’s in the interest of all sheep producers to electronically re-tag their older ewes.”

The industry won a compromise from the EU and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs allowing the historic ewe flock – those identified before the implementation of sheep electronic identification (EID) – a dispensation from the new EU regulations but this dispensation finishes on December 31.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said: “It is not a legal requirement to retag ewes and rams from the historic flock with electronic identifiers.

“What we are saying is to carefully consider what moves you are likely to make with older animals in the future and, if these will not be direct to slaughter, double-tagging is likely to be the sensible option. It makes sense to do this when you are handling sheep in the coming months – and don’t forget to make a note in your flock register.”

Charles Sercombe, national livestock board chairman at the National Farmers’ Union, added: “To make life easier for everyone, it’s important from the end of the year that older sheep are electronically tagged before they are moved.”