Case Of The Missing Ear Tags

You don’t get off the phone quickly when Saskatchewan rancher Ken Habermehl starts talking about the ear tag mess he’s come through over the past 18 months.

He is angry and emotional at times. But the fact that seven cows out of a couple of hundred were missing their approved Canadian Cattle Identification Agency RFID tags when they arrived at Elbow Community Pasture May 26, 2009, has cost him untold time, money and grief in a bid to clear his name. Eventually being cleared of charges, he hopes the case has made the point the current button RFID tags Canadian livestock owners use aren’t reliable, and wouldn’t it be good if the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had a little common sense.

The Macrorie-area (just south of Outlook) producer was charged in September 2009 by CFIA for shipping or moving cattle without proper tags. To settle the matter it was a $500 fine. Habermehl, who was a practising veterinarian for 20 years, was raised to stand up for his rights. He figures he did everything possible to ensure the tags were there before the cattle left his yard and later did everything possible to fix the fact that seven head were missing tags when they arrived at pasture. He shipped cattle to pasture May 26 and received a registered letter September 10, 2009 advising him of the charge and fine.

He gathered his evidence, his witnesses and his determination and took the matter before a Canadian Agricultural Review Tribunal hearing June 15, 2010 and in mid-September 2010 received notice the charge had been dismissed and the fine quashed. It was a joyous day.

If this decision had gone the other way, Habermehl, 57, was prepared to sell and get out the beef business, to protest what he viewed as a stupid and inflexible system.

Habermehl isn’t against the Canadian beef identification system. He sold tags for years in his vet practice, has completed the Canadian Cattleman’s Association Quality Starts Here program and he knows how to install an ear tag.

He and his son checked all cattle just before moving them to a community pasture in May 2009. All was in place. He did find two buttons in the loading chute at the farm as the last bunch were put into a trailer. But he didn’t know if the buttons were from that trailer load or one of the other 10 loads. The “button cop” as he calls him, (a CFIA field rep) was at the community pasture. He told them there may be some cattle missing RFID tags, and when the CFIA rep checked they found seven.

Habermehl offered to take them home— 67 km away, but that wasn’t allowed. He didn’t have any RFID tags with him, so he drove to Macrorie, bought tags, drove back, and they put the seven head in the chute and they were tagged. He thought that was the end of the matter until he received notice of the charge and fine, five months later. He saw red.

That launched a frustrating and time-consuming nine-month procedure that led to the tribunal hearing. Some of his CFIA friends and colleagues advised him just to suck it up and pay the fine. But Habermehl figures he had done all that a producer should be expected to do in applying tags in the first place, and also went the extra mile later to correct the problem after cattle with missing tags were found.

He represented himself at the tribunal, but friend Jim Ness, a grain farmer from New Brigden, Alberta who was one of the Terrible 13 who went to jail in 2002 for selling grain in the U. S. without a Canadian Wheat Board permit, did the talking. And one of Habermehl’s star witnesses was Roy Rutledge, a longtime beef producer and general manager of the Assiniboia Livestock Auction in Saskatchewan.

Habermehl says the colourful and outspoken Rutledge looked like a bumblebee at the hearing. Wearing a bright-yellow shirt and black suspenders, Rutledge told CFIA lawyers and the tribunal members, approved CFIA RFID tags are unreliable with a very low retention rate.

After hearing witnesses and seeing evidence from both sides, tribunal chief Dr. Don Buckingham ruled CFIA did not present evidence to show the cattle had been improperly tagged at the Habermehl farm.

“Agency officials failed to look for any evidence of lost tags in the trailers, or of ripped ears (or lack thereof) in the retagged cattle that would have provided the tribunal with perhaps enough evidence to determine whether the cattle lost their tags on the Habermehl farm or on their way to, or in the holding pens, of the Elbow Community Pasture,” the ruling states.

“…These tags are, after all, supposed to be permanent identification tags. The fact that any or all of these permanent tags would be lost within less than 48 hours is not proved from the evidence presented to the tribunal.”

Buckingham went on to say there is a sizable “problem of RFID identification tag failure” which exposes players in the beef, bison and sheep industry to liability for violations under the regulations.

Habermehl says he was initially making the point for himself, but now knows there is a whole “army” of Canadian beef producers who agree with his stand. He hopes the ruling will benefit Canadian producers, leading to either use of a better tag, or development of a fairer system. CCIA and CFIA need to be more accountable, he says.

I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of the issue.

Lee Hart Editor


Mark your calendar Dec. 7 and 8 for the annual Manitoba Grazing School to be held at the Victoria Inn in Brandon.

This 12th annual school is designed to educate, inform, interact and deliver top-notch speakers to livestock producers.

Key speakers include:

Jim Gerrish, owner of American GrazingLands Services, will speak about his Management Intensive Grazing system (MIG); The Grassroots of Grass Farming. His presentation will take graziers step by step through the MIG system — from the ground up to the management of pastures and animals.

And at a further session his topic will be: Why do we Make Hay? With today’s grazing management systems, the cost of making hay far exceeds its value to the grazing business.

Dr. Kevin Sedivec, North Dakota State University, speaking on “How does a grazing system ‘really’ work?” The composition of our plant communities have changed due to climatic conditions, human-caused weed invasion, and Kentucky bluegrass encroachment.

Doug Wray will speak on “The future of forage and grasslands.” Doug and Linda Wray operate the family ranch at Irricana, Alta. They run 225 cows, background their calves and raise their own replacements. They have developed strategies that allow them to graze in some form year round.

Brenda Schoepp, market analyst and the owner and author of Beeflink a national beef cattle market newsletter. Her ability to build integrated approaches for the agri-food industry has made her a sought-after market strategist.

Several other speakers will be making presentations during breakout sessions.

To register contact MAFRI at (204) 622-2006 or visit the Manitoba Forage Council website at and click on the events button.


The future of the livestock industry in a “regreening” global agenda was one of the topics discussed in early October as 400 scientists from around the world converged on Banff for the 4th International Greenhouse Gases and Animal Agriculture (GGAA) Conference.

Researchers said that animal agriculture can and needs to become greener and science can help.

“Greenhouse gas emissions have become one of the most challenging issues facing the world, and animal agriculture has an important role,” says GGAA president Dr. Junichi Takahashi of Japan. “As we look to the future, we are optimistic that animal agriculture can shift from its current status as a major greenhouse gas emitter into a leader in mitigation strategies.

“Meeting this challenge will take continued progress and collaboration among scientists internationally, and collective action by industry and government,” Takahashi said. “But there is no doubt, with the science progress we will see showcased at this conference, the opportunities are there. We are on the right path.”

While the burning of fossil fuels is a primary GHG issue, livestock industries have also been a substantial contributor facing increasing scrutiny and pressure to find improved mitigation approaches. The main gases emitted by the livestock industry are methane from the animals (enteric methane), and methane and nitrous oxide from manure handling and storage.

Dr. Frank O’Mara of Ireland pegged the current estimate of livestock’s contribution to total global greenhouse gas emissions in a range from eight to 10.8 per cent. There is opportunity, he says, to reduce the proportion of emissions through a variety of strategies such as improved feeding practices, specific agents and dietary additives, and longer-term structural and management changes and animal breeding. O’Mara also emphasized the need for new, innovative approaches with greater potential for faster and more substantial emissions reductions, supported by incentives that compensate and reward livestock operations for cutting emissions.

Dr. Henry Janzen of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada offered thoughts on the place of livestock in a world with an increasingly green agenda. Just as people are encouraged to rely less on the automobile and more on alternative forms of transportation, there are growing calls for less livestock production in favour of alternate food sources and land uses perceived as more sustainable.

“Humans and their livestock are intertwined to such an extent that their symbiosis will not likely soon be severed,” says Janzen. “We will need to show creativity, imagination, and courage to envision new ways of melding animals into our ecosystems, not only to minimize harm, but to advance their regreening.”


Anyone interested in raising goats either as a hobby, for a 4-H project, or as a business producing meat or milk, should find a recently published book helpful in learning about goat keeping.

Raising Goats for Dummiesis a recently released book by longtime goat breeder Cheryl K. Smith. Cheryl started with two Nigerian Dwarves in 1998 and has never looked back. She is a lawyer by training, and has written several books on goat rearing and husbandry. She lives and farms near Low Pass in the coast range of Oregon.

It is 325 pages long, easy to read, has some great illustrations and covers the A to Z topics, whether you want a couple goats for the yard, are looking to raise goats for a 4-H project, or want to get into the goat meat, milk and/or fibre business.

The various chapters describe different breeds, housing requirements on the farm, feed requirements, animal care, animal health, breeding, and kidding. And there are also sections about the business of selling meat and milking goats, as well as collecting and marketing fibre.

There is a short chapter on the 10 Misconceptions about Goats, which is interesting. It isn’t true that they eat everything, they don’t stink (except for the bucks at breeding season), they are smart, and the meat and milk taste good — are a few of the highlights. There is even a 14-page appendix with goat milk and meat recipes.

Raising Goats for Dummiesis available from many bookstores that carry the “Dummies” series. It is $24 Canadian. And you can also order it online through Chapters/ Indigo Books.


One of the first projects undertaken by the new Canadian Forage &Grassland Association, established earlier this year, is to create a plan for selling Canadian forages around the world.

The association has commissioned a study called theLong Term International Marketing Strategy for Canadian Forages. This strategic plan for the forage export sector was supported by funding from the AAFC AgriMarketing Program and will serve as a guide for the development of forage export markets.

The long-term strategy is in its final stages, says Allen Tyrchniewicz, the consultant commissioned to develop the strategy. In it Tyrchniewicz has analyzed forage export markets and notes that Canada is able to produce top-quality forages for these markets. Forage products from Canada are in demand by many importing countries, however, there is a historical lack of a strong forage sector and industry support in Canada. It also tends to be fractured regionally, and this has had a significant impact on the forage sector in Canada.

As well, his report says that there are several barriers that restrict market access in a competitive way — transportation costs, currency rates, protocols, energy costs and market demands. To overcome these and other barriers that impact growers and processors, the association will promote Canadian forage products through trade missions with current and developing markets, the enhancement of current trade protocols and the development of protocols for new markets.

Creation of the Canadian Forage &Grassland Association has been long overdue. “A national voice has been a long-term goal for many of us in the forage and grassland sector as well as those who make their living in the forage and grassland industry,” says Wayne Digby, new executive director. “We have worked long and hard to create an entity that will represent our forage and grassland industry at home and abroad and are very pleased with how it’s coming along.”

As the association develops the CFGA will be working closely with members of the beef, dairy, sheep and equine industry to ensure that all the major user groups are represented.

Ed Shaw, owner of International Quality Forage in Calgary, will be the CFGA chair and Ray Robertson, manager of the Ontario Forage Council will be the vice-chair. The board of directors will consist of representatives from across the entire forage industry including the Eastern and Western Canada provincial forage associations/ councils, the forage-export sector, the livestock sector and research and extension.

The CFGA will be housed in Brandon, with Wayne Digby taking on the role of executive director of CFGA.

The new association will assist producers, processors and exporters in their regions by providing a coordinated approach to addressing some of the challenges and opportunities of the industry.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



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