Not that I plan to have a running weekly commentary on reports with problems with the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency RFID tags, but it seems to be a common-enough concern, that I figure it deserves at least one more kick at the cat.
After running a story in December Cattleman’s Cornerdescribing the problems and concerns George Svederus of Eureka River, Abta had with tags in his beef herd, I had several phone calls and emails from producers from Cecil Lake, B.C. to Shawville, Quebec all expressing their frustration with these button tags that fall apart, rip out, or just seem to disintegrate over time.
Three points that are clearly made by producers: 1. They do their best to make sure these tags are in place and installed properly; 2. It is frustrating, expensive, and sometimes hazardous to replace them; 3. And often those who do call to let someone know about the problem, don’t get any calls back.
Here is how these Canadian beef producers describe their experience with RFID tags:
EMAIL FROM THE UNRAUS
I just read your article in (December)Grainewsabout RFID tags. Thank you for that. Our experience with ear tags is dismal to say the least. We run about 300 cows. We no longer bother to tag any herd cows as we have about an 80 per cent loss over the years. Some of those cows have seven holes in their ears and will no longer put their head into a head gate. Our cows stay on our own range so the tags get put in only when they are sold. We have tried every kind of tag and have a complete selection of applicators (all as bad as another). We refuse to tag any culled herd bulls when they are sold. This is in our opinion just too dangerous. We pay the stockyards to do it (expensive). Calves get tagged at birth. Loss over the summer is about 10 per cent. These calves, of course, have to be tagged again before shipping to market so all have to be sorted and closely examined. The stress on man and beast is unacceptable to us. I got run over by a crazed 700- lb. steer while doing this. I did not come out so well.
I understand the reasoning behind the RFID tag system. Could we not be allowed a five per cent loss without penalty? I would not complain if five calves out of a 100 sold at market had to be tagged there at my expense. But what’s with these fines? Thank you for your efforts on the cattlemen’s behalf. Abe and Judy Unrau
(p. s. We still brand. Branding lasts for life.)
MARG EAST OF SASKATOON
Marg and her husband, who farm east of Saskatoon, called to describe their experience with Allflex ear tags earlier this year. They tagged about 70 head of finishing cattle in August and when it came time to ship in November, all but one of the tags had fallen out or been ripped out.
They found them just lying in the yard and around feeders. Some tags had come apart and some were ripped out. Yes, the cattle are around feeders but Marg figures the tags should be more reliable than that.
Marg bought a new package of tags November 19 and it turned out to be a bag of mixed problems. Some didn’t fit into the applicator, there were different sizes or thicknesses, and on six units the prong part was broken.
Marg called Kane Veterinary Supplies, which distributes the tags, about Batch 2786 to 2810, and was told “they’ve never had any complaints before.” Then she called the CCIA technical person and never did receive a call back.
“Now I am an old cowgirl and we’ve been tagging cattle for many years, and there was something wrong with these tags,” says Marg. “The $2.75 to $3 per tag may not seem like much but that ends up being $80 for 25 tags and if you have to keep replacing them, it is just another cost to the producer.
“We have the correct tool with the correct model of tag, but on some of these the plastic on the back of the button is twice as thick as it is on others and they don’t even fit into the applicator.
“The ears get ripped when some of these tags come out and the area gets bloody and then you have flies all around it. It is not good.
“I stepped on one that fell apart in the pen and the steel pin went through the sole of my boot into my foot.
“We don’t even try tagging bulls that are being shipped. At the auction mart they charge $20 to tag a bull plus the cost of a tag. But we are getting older and it isn’t safe to do it.
“We feel we install these tags properly, but they don’t stay in. There has to be a better way.”
GEORGE BOLIN CECIL LAKE, B.C.
George Bolin, who runs a 250- head cow-calf herd, including about 100 registered Charolais in the Peace River not far from the Alberta border, says 10 to 15 per cent tag loss isn’t unusual and isn’t acceptable in his books.
In November 2009, George rounded up 100 calves for sale, they were all checked closely in his yard, five head needed replacement RFID tags. Those were replaced, and the calves were shipped to the Clyde, Alta. auction mart. A day after George says they checked all calves, the auction mart reported that 13 head were missing tags and those were replaced at a cost of about $15 each. (Close to $200.)
“Between the cows and calves I’d say we lose about 10 per cent of tags per year,” says George. “This is not a good system. This whole program is starting to look like a bunch of B.S. and it is definitely a nuisance.”
George has been selling animals at the bull sale in Dawson Creek for 31 years. Of 13 original breeders, he is the last man standing. The Bar B Charolais Farm bull sale will be in Dawson Creek in early April 2011.
GARRY HABART GOLDEN, B.C.
Garry Habart, who runs a woodlot and small black beef herd near Golden in southeast B.C. says about 10 per cent of the Allflex RFID tags in his 80 head of cattle are lost every year.
“I could see it, maybe, if you just found them beside a fence line, but you can be walking across an open field and find an ear tag that came apart,” says Habart. “We usually buy tags in the fall, and apply them in the spring when calves are born. And then each fall when we sell calves we have to replace about 10 per cent.”
Habart’s wife says she has a collection of broken and “found” tags in a box.
Habart says aside from being expensive — B.C. producers don’t get any help with the cost of tagging cattle — “retagging defeats the whole purpose of traceability.”
FRED KOSTYK SUNNYBROOK, ALBERTA
Fred Kostyk has been in the beef business for about 45 years, and the 78-year-old uses some pretty descriptive language to explain how he feels about the retention factor of RFID button tags.
Kostyk, who has been downsizing his herd from a high of 300 head, says there doesn’t appear to be any reason why 10 to 15 per cent of the button tags are lost from both cows and calves.
“We put cattle in the squeeze to hold them and use the right gun when we put in these tags,” he says. “This is a government thing so we want to do it right. But still we find these tags are lost.
“We used to feed bales and they’d catch their ears on the twine sometimes, but I went away from twines to John Deere net wrap, $400 a roll. We did that three years ago and we still find tags missing.”
Kostyk shipped 50 cows not long ago and had to replace eight tags in that group. “Our cattle are in mostly open country so I don’t see any excuse for it,” he says. His wife did recently find a complete tag on or near a round bale feeder, which suggests the tag got caught on the feeder frame.
“I’ve got old guns and new guns here for installing tags, but you do have to line things up right to make that proper connection,” he says. “Maybe they need better tools for installing these tags. They use to sell a metal tag that clipped around the edge of the ear. I think those stayed in a lot better.”
WILLIAM SYR OID ST. PAUL, ALBERTA
William Syroid who raises beef near St. Paul in northeast Alberta has been on the campaign trail for better quality, more reliable RFID tags for some time. He says his cattle have lost many of the RFID tags.
Syroid who retired from a high tech industry to go back to ranching, says the concept of having a permanent tag on the exterior of an animal’s body just doesn’t work considering all the variables and hazards that tag and ear are exposed to. He says there are eartag designs that would be better, but the ultimate solution is some type of implant chip.
He says the current approved tags aren’t properly tested for the wide range of conditions.
RU DY OBERHOFER LLOYDMINSTER, SASK.
Rudy Oberhofer runs about 160 cow-calf pairs on his farm northeast of Lloydminster, Sask. He says this past February they were preparing to ship 80 head of cattle. They were all checked on the farm “we were sure they all had tags,” and when the cattle got to the sale yard, seven tags were missing and had to be replaced at a cost of $10 per head.
“I’m not sure what happened,” says Oberhofer. “I just know the tags were lost and it cost to have them replaced. I have been walking across the yard and I’ll just find a tag laying there, so I don’t know what happens to them. With some tags that have been in for a while the material just goes rotten.
“It’s not a perfect system by a long shot,” he says. “I am not happy with the averages. People say we need this system, and maybe we do, but I think they also feel farmers have nothing else to do but run around and replace tags. The old medal clip vaccination tags seemed to stay a lot better than these.”
KELLY FARR IS STEPHENFIELD, MANITOBA
Kelly Farris and family farm west of Carman, Man., running about 160 head of commercial and purebred red and black Simmental cattle. They also background calves.
Farris applies the RFID tags in newborn calves when they are about a week old, and he figures those stay in quite well with very few lost.
“But we’ve found in cows and replacement cattle that once those tags get to be three, four or five years old more and more are lost,” he says. “By the time animals are six years old about 100 per cent of the tags have been lost. If the lifespan of the average cow is about 10 years you can pretty well look at replacing them all at least once.
“We age verify all calves at seven months of age. So when you sell an open or cull cow and the tag is lost we have age verify all over again.”
Kelly, who uses quite a few Allflex tags, says it appears as the tags age, the plastic becomes brittle due to sun and cold and “we find the button on the back of tag virtually disintegrates,” he says. “Even a two-year-old tag is pretty good, but after that they start to break down.”
He has told CCIA about the problem, telling CCIA reps at their booth at Canadian Western Agribition about his concerns over tag retention, but there was no follow-up. And he has taken his concerns to Manitoba Beef Producer meetings.
“We’re not seeing many ripped out because we’re careful with bale twine, and we’re not seeing the problem in the feed yard, but as these tags get older the material just seems to fail.”
ANDREW SIMMS SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC
Andrew Simms, who runs about 55 cows near Shawville in western Quebec, says even though it is a small herd, or perhaps especially since it is a small herd, he is frustrated by “constantly having to replace tags.”
“We ran a bunch of cattle through the other day, and there were 27 cow-calf pairs and 10 bred heifers and we had to replace four tags in mature animals, so that is pretty close to 10 per cent,” he says. “It seems like we always have to be replacing one or two tags here and there.”
Simms, who lives in that other country, works through ATQ or Agri-Traabilité Québec, which provides Allflex RFID tags. He uses an RFID tag in the right ear and uses a numbered visual ID tag in the left ear.
Regarding lost tags, Simms says it doesn’t appear they get ripped out, but tags either just come apart or the material gets brittle and breaks. He isn’t seeing that many lost tags in calves, but it’s more of a problem in cows and heifers.
He knows that ATQ has received many complaints from producers over poor tag retention.
“Whenever any animal leaves the farm it needs to have an RFID tag,” he says. “But if tags are being lost, and we have to keep replacing tags it makes this whole concept of tracking and traceability more difficult. I know ATQ is constantly doing more testing, so I guess we just have to keep up with this ongoing battle until we get something better.”
KEN HABERMEHL MACRORIE, SASK.
Saskatchewan beef producer, Ken Habermehl, who got this whole RFID ear tag series going in October, with his report on fighting Canadian Food Inspection Agency charges for transporting untagged cattle, called to say he continues to inform producers about the weaknesses of the CCIA tagging and traceability program.
Habermehl was charged in 2009 with hauling cattle to pasture without tags, although he says everything was tagged when it was standing in his yard. Seven cows where missing tags when they arrived at the community pasture. He was charged and issued a fine of $500. It took a year, but he argued his case before a tribunal and the charge was quashed and the fine dropped.
But since then, Ken has taken every opportunity he can to inform producers there is a problem with the tags, and penalties against farmers if cattle don’t have tags are unfair. He spoke recently to producers gathered at the Assiniboia Auction Mart just before the sale, and he may be heading to the Alberta Peace River region to speak to producers there.
Ken did send me a copy of an article on the Australian ear tag/ traceability system, which was written by Bonnie Warnyca and appeared in the December issue of theSaskatchewan Cattleman’s Connection.It is an interesting article about the differences in the Australian system compared to Canada. If you send your email address to me at [email protected] and I can email you a pdf of the four-page story.