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Keeping an eye on ear-tagging scheme

nait eag tagWhen July 2012 rolls around, it heralds the arrival of something all lifestyle farmers should be aware of - National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT).

NAIT is a nationwide scheme to identify and trace individual animals - specifically cattle and deer - with a unique 16-digit identification number that can be read by an electronic scanner (don't worry about the scanners, you won't necessarily need them - they're for the saleyard and slaughterhouse folk to use). This information will be gathered and stored on a future NAIT database.

The new tags will be used alongside the existing Animal Health Board ear tags. All calves born after 1st July 2012 will need a NAIT primary tag and an AHB secondary tag. Existing cattle with AHB tags will need an additional NAIT tag within three years of the scheme coming into effect, or if they are to be moved off farm, whichever is sooner. Calves born after 1st March 2011 can have the NAIT primary and AHB secondary tags.

NAIT adds about $2 to the current cost of tags, and there will also be a levy of around $1 per year per animal. This is for all livestock owners, from dairy farm operations to those keeping a couple of beef animals.

The system will be monitored, and non-compliance will have a fine attached to it - details are being worked out at the moment.

nait ear tagAs a lifestyle block owner, you may be wondering what all this has to do with you, or why you have any obligation to have your animals tagged. The benefits of NAIT mostly link to security for the beef export industry and traceability in the case of a bio emergency such as a foot-and-mouth outbreak, and carries little relevance for the common garden-variety lifestyle farmer.

Why, then, should you bother?

NAIT senior communications advisor Sussana Hooper likens it to polio immunisation.

"It's only going to be successful if everybody's doing it, because all it takes is one person not doing it for others to be infected. It's really important that we can respond quickly and accurately to biosecurity risks and protect farmers' income."

Lifestyle block owners, she says, have the same obligation as large-scale farmers to have their cattle tagged, even if the animal's intended resting place is the family freezer rather than a supermarket shelf.

"It all comes back to having a complete system so that we can provide assurance for our market. I guess you could look at it as insurance for the primary sector," Ms Hooper says.

After 1 July 2012, you will need to register yourself and your location if you own cattle or deer.  Animals will have to be tagged within 180 days of birth or before they move off-farm - whichever comes first.

"Any animal that moves has to be tagged, and NAIT will have to be notified of that as well. There'll be a system set up. At the moment we don't know what that looks like, it's being developed, but we will keep people informed."

Once the scheme is up and running, there will be a number of ways to contact NAIT: via phone, website, through delegates or Animal Information Service Providers.

NAIT Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs) are available from any rural retail store, although at this stage it's simply to give farmers and lifestyle block owners a chance to get used to the technology before it becomes mandatory.

  • NAIT Ltd is an industry-owned company established to develop and implement the scheme. Established in June 2010, the company is governed by a board of five independent directors, with a nine-member stakeholder reference group.
  • Canada set up a similar system in 2002; Australia followed in 2006. Other countries with a national animal identification scheme include the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, and the US.
  • Further details are available on the NAIT website.

For more details and a chance to ask questions of NAIT directly visit our NAIT questions and answers forum.