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Do cattle lose their NLIS devices in trucks?

Bruce Watt and Katrina Crawford, Central Tablelands Local Land Services, Bathurst

This article was written for regional newspapers in April 18 2013 to describe a trial to determine how many cattle lost their NLIS devices in transit. It remains relevant today and is posted in lieu of the formal report.

If you are a sheep or cattle producer, your industry, your government and your markets strongly endorse the NLIS, which ensures the traceability of livestock as they are moved or sold.

LHPA (now LLS) staff have been given the task of ensuring that producers correctly identify their livestock with an NLIS device before they are transported.

As part of my job, I am required to send a standard legally phrased letter to producers who don’t comply advising them of their breach of the Stock Diseases Regulation of 2009.

In mid-2011, our office received a letter of complaint that as "vast numbers of NLIS devices are lost when cattle are transported, how can we possibly send unpleasant letters to the owners of cattle that arrive at saleyards without ear tags?" Our correspondent mentioned that "truck and saleyard operators will tell you of the vast numbers of tags that they see at truck washes." Our complainant asked, how could producers, who are sure that their cattle all had tags when they were loaded, be held responsible for events that occurred in trucks and elsewhere, out of their control? Fair question.

If trucks and truck washes are ankle deep in NLIS devices torn from the ears of cattle while they are in transit, how can we have a credible livestock traceability system? Our correspondent mentioned that his was a common experience and I have heard others with the same concern, both before and since.

We decided to investigate.

Given that the credibility of the NLIS was questioned, we approached Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to support us in a study on the extent of losses of NLIS tags in cattle in transit.

Our project officer, Katrina Crawford took the lead, liaising with local livestock agents who had consignments of cattle that were to be trucked to the Central Tablelands Livestock Exchange (CTLX).

She scanned all the cattle in each load before they were run onto the trucks and they were then scanned, as usual, when they arrived at CTLX.

In all Katrina scanned 556 head of cattle consisting of 20 consignments in 27 truckloads.

She recorded the details of each truck and crate aiming for a mix of small and larger units.

She found one NLIS device that did not read. The owner replaced this device, as is required under NLIS rules, before the cattle were transported.

All 556 head of cattle arrived at CTLX with their NLIS devices retained in their ears.

We found no evidence of the loss of NLIS devices in trucks. I have no doubt that this does happen occasionally and if we had conducted a bigger study, we might have found this.

Based on the evidence of our trial, I suggest that it is far more likely that the producers who complained to me, busy getting cattle ready to load, have missed those without NLIS devices.

I suggest that this can happen quite easily and that we all need to double check our cattle before transporting them. I also hope that in future I do not have to send out any unpleasant letters.

Finally, I would like to thank MLA for funding this study and the local cattle producers and livestock agents who so willingly assisted us.


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