WA considers an end to mandatory cattle branding

Beef Central, 30/11/2020

WESTERN Australian livestock owners, industry and the community are being encouraged to provide feedback on a proposal to make earmarking and branding of stock optional.

Under the proposal, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development will amend the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 to remove the mandatory requirements for earmarking sheep and earmarking or branding cattle.

Department product integrity manager Brad McCormick said sheep and cattle owners would be able to choose whether to continue or cease earmarking and branding their stock.

“Earmarking and branding of livestock was first used over 100 years ago in Western Australia as a permanent means of identification of ownership of sheep and cattle,” Dr McCormick said.

“While this system, if applied correctly, is useful to visually identify the original owner of the animals, it is not able to identify subsequent owners nor to record movements through the supply chain.

“Modern livestock supply chains require identification and traceability systems that can record multiple owners and record movements.

“The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) provides this ability and underpins Australia’s biosecurity, market access and food safety.

“As the NLIS provides an identification capability, there is reduced need for earmarking and branding, and most other Australian jurisdictions have removed mandatory earmarking and branding requirements.”

Dr McCormick said the department recognised some producers would wish to continue to earmark or brand and hence the department would continue to issue stock brands and earmarks to registered owners and to maintain the database to support this ability.

“The department will retain the integrity of the identification system for owners to use their unique earmarks or brands, including the retention of high penalties for tampering with, defacing or using someone else’s identifiers,” he said.

Dr McCormick said other than removing provisions for mandatory earmarking and branding, the NLIS regulations would not be changed except to bring the timing for cattle NLIS identification in line with sheep NLIS tagging.

“Under the changes, cattle would need to be identified with an NLIS device before six months of age in the South-West or 18 months in pastoral areas, or before leaving the property, whichever occurs first,” he said.

“NLIS identification within this changed timeframe will be required even if the owner chooses to earmark or brand.”

Sheep visual NLIS tags will continue to be printed with the owner’s brand.

To find out more about the proposal and to have your say, visit Talking Biosecurity

The consultation period runs until 5pm AWST on 22 December 2020.

In July of this year the Queensland Government introduced a temporary exemption removing the need for cattle with a live weight in excess of 100kg to be branded before sale.

The move was introduced to prevent the need for people working in close proximity of each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exemptions remain unchanged for approved stud cattle sales and calves under 100kg live weight. More details on the Queensland exemption here.


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  1. Matthew Della Gola, 01/12/2020

    All fair and reasonable responses above. I would also like to pose an idea of government departments removing something that may be deemed unprofitable and not requiring enough pointless staff in the sense it doesnt create enough mindless paper for rooms of people to be employed to have it processed. Thus requiring more people to be employed to create more mindless paperwork. Whilst we’ve all swallowed the nlis method nothing will trump your own brand. Lets not forget 1200hd of cattle have been stolen in the north of our country.

  2. Paul D. Butler, 01/12/2020

    Mandatory government dictated management practices are seldom a good thing.

  3. Paul Franks, 30/11/2020

    In Western Australia there must be a large disconnect between those people that apply tags and manage cattle and those that sit in air conditioned offices thinking up rules.

    I know a lot of people who refuse to apply NLIS tags to on property bred heifers used as breeders since the tags rarely stay in beyond a few years (retention rate has improved over the past twenty years but is still woeful in the long term). It is rare to find a 10 year old cow who had a NLIS tag applied when a calf/weaner with the original tag still in their ear.

    On top of that tags are very easy to cut out and those devious ones would easily apply their own to “prove ownership”

  4. Brad Bellinger, 30/11/2020

    The NLIS database is a mess to remove ear marking and branding would be a disaster for donating animal ownership and weaken biosecurity.

  5. David Connolly, 30/11/2020

    NLIS does not legislate for ownership. Only traceability of stock movements.
    As far as security of ownership is concerned it is very easy to cut out an eartag, but far harder to doctor a brand or earmark.

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