Queensland is running out of unique cattle brands 

James Nason, 13/01/2023

BRANDING of cattle has been mandatory in the State for more than 100 years, serving as proof of ownership and as an on-farm management tool.

A small sample of some of the brands forged by Jandowae, Qld, blacksmiths Morrissey and Co, who still operate in the same  Darling Downs shed today – see our earlier article here

There are now almost 70,000 three-piece cattle brands registered in Queensland, and almost 14,000 symbol brands, according to Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) data.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for livestock owners to register new brands, a QDAF spokesperson told an AgForce webinar last night.

Many brand combintions have already been registered and are unavailable, even though they may still not be in active use.

Marguerite Clarke, Director at Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, explained to last night’s AgForce webinar that it can take a long time for an unused brand to be released under existing rules.

And even when an existing brand is able to be released under the complex rules, it cannot be used for five years afterwards.

Highlighting the extent of the problem, roughly 50 percent of new three-piece brand applications in Queensland and 70 percent of symbol brand applications are initially rejected and need to be reworked, she said.

Many are often too similar to existing registered brands.

“Another reason that it can be hard to find a unique three-piece brand is that everyone currently needs to register a three-piece brand, even if they only want to use a symbol brand,” Ms Clarke explained.

Move to voluntary branding being considered

The shortage of available brands is one of several reasons why the Queensland Government is currently considering whether it is now time for Queensland to align with other States and make livestock branding voluntary.

Branding irons from Morrissey and Co, Jandowae.

Queensland and the Northern Territory are the only jurisdictions where it is still mandatory to brand cattle.

In Queensland legislation requires cattle weighing more than 100kg to be branded before they are sold.

However, this requirement is currently waived under an ongoing COVID-19 related exemption, introduced in 2020 to avoid having staff working in close proximity to one another during the pandemic.

The Queensland Government is currently seeking feedback on two proposed options for the future of livestock branding and ear marking in the State.

The first option is to continue with existing mandatory requirements.

The second option is to give producers the right not to brand if they would prefer not to, either by giving them the choice to opt out of mandatory branding (option 2A), or giving them the option of voluntary branding (Option 2B).

It was stressed a number of times during last night’s webinar that the move is not about “banning” branding, but rather giving producers choice. Those who want to brand will be able to continue to do so, regardless of which option the State Government ultimately settles upon after the current consultation period, which ends this Sunday.

New fee structure

There will however be a new fee structure introduced to help fund whichever system is chosen going forward. Modelling suggests producers who brand would be charged an administration fee in the vicinity of $60 to $70 per brand per year under the new arrangements.

Livestock producers are currently being given an opportunity to voice their opinion, with submissions to close this Sunday, January 15.

Peter Hall

AgForce is preparing its own submission on behalf of its members, and has held a number of webinars this week to give producers (almost 250 so far) information, to give their opinion, and to help them to lodge their own submissions.

AgForce Cattle Board president Peter Hall said it “was important to get this right, because we use it every day to manage our business.”

“The number of producers attending the two webinars underlines the importance of the issue and will give our advocacy more weight.

“The key questions for the industry to consider are whether to go down the voluntary branding pathway or to stick with the mandatory system, and whether producers are willing to pay a fee to better manage the branding and earmarking system. The current system needs an upgrade, that is for sure.”

Reasons for considering changes to branding rules

In a presentation to the webinar Marguerite Clarke, Director at Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Queensland), who has been working on a review of the Brands Act within Biosecurity Queensland, outlined the background and details on the proposed options being considered.

In addition to the diminishing availability of new brands, she said there were several reasons why the issue of livestock brands was now being considered, including a need to modernise the State’s Brands Act and to upgrade its ageing IT system to better manage the brands registry and system.

Ms Clarke said what while legislation in Queensland has hardly changed in 100 years, there have been major changes in the industry, with advances in technology through the National Livestock Identification System now providing a more effective way of tracing cattle.

The number of cattle movements has increased dramatically over time, with an average of 31,000 movements recorded per day in 2021-22, or 5.95 million across the full 12 month period.

The brands system was not equipped to achieve the level of traceability required with that volume of cattle movements, and brands now played no role in biosecurity tracing at all.

The “CowCatcher” simulations conducted by industry to test biosecurity preparedness every few years showed that the NLIS system is operating at about 98 percent efficiency on the tracing of cattle within 24 hours, with brand data not used in those exercises.

Adding to the urgency for reform was the need to replace the ageing IT system underpinning the brands system which “has now reached the end of its life”.

“When we replace it there is an opportunity to replace it with a system that supports simpler, more streamlined arrangements which reduce red tape and are more consistent with other Australian jurisdictions,” Ms Clark said.

“That is why the Government is consulting on options now, and the Minister released a consultation Regulatory Impact Statement that examines several options for both brands and ear marks and the costs and benefits of the options.”

Fees currently being charged covered only about 11 percent of the cost of staffing and IT systems required to administer the existing brands system.

New fees are proposed to support the implementation of a new IT system for the ongoing administration of brands and ear marks.

It is also envisaged that a renewal fee will also prompt people to surrender brands they’re not using or don’t want, which would hopefully free-up unused brands for livestock producers currently finding it hard to register the brand they want.

Full details and cost/benefit analysis of each option for branding and ear marking can be found on QDAF’s livestock branding and ear marking engagement hub: Producers can also provide their feedback via a survey or upload their own submission with their feedback at the same link.

Stock theft implications

Ms Clarke emphasised that under all proposed options, livestock owners could continue to brand if they want to mitigate the risk of stock theft.

Several questions during the webinar raised concerns that a reduction in rates of branding would result in an increase in rates of stock theft.

One producer noted that in 18 case studies surrounding stock theft from the Queensland Police Service, 84 percent were solved due to brands being on cattle, while 60 percent of cases involved NLIS tags either being removed or illegally replaced.

Is a rise in stock theft considered likely if mandatory branding is removed, the producer asked.

“The bottom line is that producers will still be able to brand their cattle if they wish, regardless of which option is ultimately selected, QDAF Deputy Director-General and Chief Biosecurity Officer Malcolm Letts replied.

He said the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries continues to consult with the Queensland Police Service about any proposed changes to the Act.

Webinar attendees back mandatory retention

A straw poll at the end of the webinar to sample the feeling in the room drew 58 responses, with 76 percent backing continued mandatory branding of cattle in Queensland, and 69pc responding that they would be prepared to pay a $60-$70 annual fee to keep their cattle brand.

Of the 58 participants in the poll, spread relatively evenly across the cattle producing regions of Queensland, 97pc said they currently branded their cattle.


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  1. Mick Cook, 25/01/2023

    Branding is the best way to identify your cattle and should be voluntary. When selling a cow and calf I feel it not necessary to brand the calf because it is likely to be cross branded as soon as it is bought and does not need the extra trauma. Earmarks are a quick visual ID and an earmark should be used statewide with registered brand and not just districts. There should be no annual fee. Introducing lazy numbers would create more brands.

  2. richard stuart cribb, 24/01/2023

    i believe branding should be voluntary , as cattle being purchased in nsw often do not have a brand. For stock theft purposes i believe brands are necessary and will be continuing to brand. I am not opposed to the fee structure. My main concerns will be animal rights groups trying to get branding discontinued, or making us go to freeze branding which is not practical on large scale or remote places.

  3. Vic and mary inverardi, 24/01/2023

    I believe that the only way to identify ownership is by a brand. NLIS tags can be removed or lost. Also, a lot of people only tag the cattle they sell, because of the cost of doing large numbers. If they are done as calves, about 30% are lost by the time they are sold.
    Brands should be free, – you pay enough to have them made up. And a symbol brand should be allowed on its own. This is just an example of more cost to the producer. When mustering, it is so easy to see a neighbours brand, whereas if it were only tagged, it involves a head bale job, (more stess and danger to both human and animal) plus the time to chase up who owns the tag on the internet – the beast is in the yard much longer. Most people are short on time and labour, we don’t need more things to bog us down.

  4. barbara rushbrook, 24/01/2023

    I feel that mandatory cattle branding is very outdated . Giving producers the choice to continue branding or opt for more humane and efficient methods of traceability is definitely the best way to go. Ear marking could also be optional, as most stud stock are not ear marked at present anyway.

  5. John Mewing, 24/01/2023

    I believe that branding should be retained in Queensland as a permanent means of identification and ownership of stock. Stock theft is an obvious reason for this as NLIS tags can be removed. It is also easier to identify stock that strayed if they are branded. NLIS tags are not foolproof and can fall out, particularly in wooded country.
    We recently had a sudden death of an insured bull and the insurance company required proof of the brand and NLIS in order to pay out the insurance. Have the insurance companies been consulted on this proposal as well?
    We support the continuation of mandatory branding until an absolutely secure system of identification is developed.
    If registering a brand is now difficult due to availability of symbols surely it is possible to contact all brand holders to identify which brands are no longer in use taking into account the 5 year lag time.

  6. Ronald Rose, 19/01/2023

    Producers will not benefit from not branding their livestock this exercise is about revenue raising
    NLIS tag cannot guarantee ownership if the government is serious about identification by this means they will have to use microchip imagine that cost

  7. Michelle Finger, 17/01/2023

    I think most livestock businesses are concerned about the slippery slope … voluntary too easily leads to banned, then there is *NO* way of identifying ownership of valuable livestock.

  8. Paul Swan, 16/01/2023

    If I am to be paying a fee to keep my brands, I will want better access to the registry records. Currently the only information available is that for your oen brands. You cannot look up and check location and ownership of other brands.

  9. Targinnie Holdings P L, 15/01/2023

    Mandatory branding must be retained as it is a deterrent to stock theft. Livestock lose NLIS tags every minute of the day and these are not effective in preventing stock theft
    It is also used as a marketing tool by many producers and identifies stock very readily giving buyers at sales confidence in the product they are bidding on.
    Fees for maintaining brands registration and or registering new brands must be closely monitored to ensure producers are getting value for money as government charges get out of control very easily and don’t always reflect fee for service.

  10. John Gray, 14/01/2023

    1. Any cattleman that values his livestock puts a stamp on them.
    2. anyone who doesn’t firebrand their stock – “Well, you’re just asking to have your stock stolen and you’ll get no sympathy from me when they disappear into the wide blue yonder, NLIS WON’T SAVE YOU.
    3. $60/$70 per year to keep our fire brands registered, that’s nothing less than good old fashioned government revenue raising!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Mandatory fire branding of stock needs to stay. PERMINATLY.

  11. Luke Schreiweis, 14/01/2023

    I believe branding shouldn’t be made a choice, when your out the back paddock and see a few different head in amongst yours, you can easily identify with the site of a brand where they come from, you can’t read a nlis tag unless you can get the beast to a head bale, I think to allow more brands available make it that you can have a symbol brand or a 3 piece brand, I believe once most people have a symbol brand after having a 3 piece established, they barely use the 3 piece brand they just have it cause they have to.

  12. Peter Turner, 14/01/2023

    You should be charge the $60 If you don’t do a brands return, after 2 non returns you forfeit that brand. This will free up brands NLIS is not a foolproof identifying system as the eartags can be replaced

  13. Rob Mackenzie, 14/01/2023

    Why is it compulsory to have a three price brand in order to get a symbol brand . If this rule was dropped it would free up a lot of brands.

  14. Richard Oldfield, 13/01/2023

    What a contradiction, Ms Clarke states that with the advances in technology through the NLIS is now providing a more effective way of tracing cattle at about 98% efficiency, not using the 100 year old out dated brand system. Shouldn’t money be spent on making that better than charging people more to brand their own cattle for their ownership while on their property, Minimum cost to get a brand made is $500 on top of registration fees. Brand owners do their brand return online between January to March each year, that should not incur another cost each year.

  15. Bruce Hamilton, 13/01/2023

    Branding greatly helps in preventing theft.I have quite a few stories of poddy dodging over the years.Brands aid in a stealing conviction and deter light fingered individuals.

  16. John Cowen, 13/01/2023

    Brands will always be away to track theft or lost cattle. Cattle lose Nils tags but ive never had a cow lose a brand. As for animal welfare, we need to explore new idenifing options.

  17. Neil Dixon, 13/01/2023

    How can I confirm if my fathers brand is still registered?

  18. Tony Duncan, 13/01/2023

    All this is is a money making sceme. In your report it stated the IT system needs replacing, so guess who pays. 84000 X $60 each year is 5 and a half million each year. What a con

  19. Laurie Seery, 13/01/2023

    Branding should be non compolisary leaving it up to the knower when u send cattle to the works u are penlised and docked for damaged to the hide but I still think u should brand as it is Easley way of inifial your cattle

  20. Peter Gee, 13/01/2023

    Make branding voluntary in Qld
    So it aligns with the other states
    Also it will be an animal welfare issue at some stage
    A lot of cattle are now sold unbranded in SE Queensland does not seem to be an issue anymore

    • Alex Berry, 14/01/2023

      Thanks Peter,
      I agree, and why spoil a good hide unnecessarily.

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