TO earmark or brand livestock, or not to earmark or brand livestock?
For Western Australian cattle and sheep farmers, the decision is set to become optional - and no longer compulsory - from the start of the new year.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) announced changes to the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013, after consultation with WA farmers and stakeholders late last year.
Under the changes, National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) tagging would remain mandatory for both cattle and sheep.
However, changes would be made to the timeframe for applying an NLIS electronic device to cattle.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) livestock committee chairman Chris Patmore - and other association members - were among the 36 per cent of the consultation survey's 574 respondents, who were against the proposed change.
Mr Patmore said members were particularly disappointed about earmarking and branding becoming optional in cattle.
Meanwhile, he said there were mixed responses in the sheep industry.
"I think most sheep producers resigned themselves to the fact it was going to happen and they were just going to have to deal with whether or not their neighbours earmarked," Mr Patmore said.
"Whereas, cattle producers in the pastoral areas were quite upset.
"In saying that, I don't think it should matter because most of them will continue doing it anyway."
Mr Patmore added what had caused the most upset was the fact cattle producers would have to use NLIS tagging on all cattle.
He said this would include cattle remaining on the station their entire life and was something that wasn't highlighted in the consultation survey.
"It has been lobbed on the station people with no warning whatsoever," Mr Patmore said,
"The inconvenience of NLIS tagging cattle that weren't going to leave the property has been raised as a concern.
"Some people do it for their own management reasons, but there's a hell of a lot of them that don't and they are really upset about having to do so when there will be no gain from it if they are not being sold.
"Anyone wanting to earmark still will, but the PGA's main concern is we need to ensure DPIRD are going to continue running the brand register."
Earmarking and branding of livestock was first used more than 100 years ago in WA, as a permanent means of identification of ownership of sheep and cattle.
NLIS was introduced in 1999 to enhance Australia's ability to trace cattle during disease and food safety incidents and was expanded to also include sheep and goats in 2009.
Current regulations require that cattle are fitted with an NLIS device before they leave a property.
However, the changes effective January 1, 2022, require cattle to be fitted with an NLIS device:
p In the agricultural region, before they reach six months of age or before they first leave the property, whichever occurs first.
p In the pastoral region before they reach 18 months of age or before they first leave the property, whichever occurs first.
NLIS tagging requirements for sheep remain unchanged.
Sheep will still require a year of birth coloured accredited NLIS tag with the owner's brand or Property Identification Code (PIC) in the appropriate ear for the animal's gender on the property of birth and an additional pink NLIS tag in the other ear, prior to leaving the property they were not born on.
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) product integrity manager Brad McCormick said there had been majority support for making earmarking and branding optional and giving producers more choice.
"Earmarking and branding have historically been used to support proof of livestock ownership but they are limited in their benefit to traceability, as they do not reflect changes in stock ownership or movements between properties," Mr McCormick said.
"Thanks to the introduction of NLIS, earmarking and branding no longer provide a useful biosecurity function for tracing the more than 28,000 livestock movements that occur in WA each day.
"The changes to the regulations mean producers can choose whether to use these identifiers or not - your livestock, your choice."
Dr McCormick said livestock producers could continue to earmark or brand their stock if they wished to do so.
"Stock owners can still use earmarking and branding as part of their farm management practices if they see benefits, such as for visually identifying the owner of livestock or to discourage stock theft," he said.
"The current stock owner registration system will be maintained and every registered owner will still be given their own unique brand and earmark.
"It will remain an offence to use someone else's registered identifiers or to create marks that cause confusion."
For more information about earmarking, branding and tagging livestock, refer to www.agri.wa.gov.au/livestock-movement-identification/changes
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