My name is Simon Riddle, and I have represented the Victorian Farmers Federation on the WoolProducers Executive since 2020. I live in North-east Victoria with my wife Anna, and two children. We own and operate an 18–19-micron self-replacing merino flock and poll merino stud, currently lambing down around 2000 ewes.
Traceability is becoming increasingly important in Australia. Even with everything Australia does in regard to our border security, there is an ever-present risk of an emergency disease, such as Foot and Mouth, managing to sneak past the borders and entering our country. This would have a devastating impact on our livestock industry, costing billions of dollars to eradicate and repair our industry. Therefore, being able to trace stock and animal product movements in a fast and easy manner is required to manage the outbreak, look at Covid-19 for example.
In Victoria, all lambs born since 2017 have been required to be identified with an electronic NLIS tag. This is then entered into the NLIS database when the sheep are moved from the property, either to another property, saleyards or abattoirs. This enables individual sheep to be tracked, not just a mob-based system, and does not allow for sheep jumping pens! As stated before, in the event of a disease outbreak, the ability to track single sheep quickly will allow us to get in front of the transmission by tracking and stopping sheep that have come in contact with any disease.
I am not saying that the Victorian system is perfect, but in my opinion, it is definitely more advanced than the mob-based system. There is fine tuning to be done on the recording system to make it bulletproof, but it has already been shown that sheep can be tracked through saleyards with an electronic NLIS at 99% accuracy, compared to around 70% on a mob-based system.
In Victoria, the electronic NLIS tag is subsidised by our state Government, obviously helping the transition. Although it is still a higher cost for most producers opposed to visual tags, the electronic NLIS identification system provides an opportunity to manage individual sheep performance on farm. Anything such as live weight, daily weight gains, pregnancy scanning results and fleece weights can be recorded next to each individual animal, showing their individual value to your business. With this, more profit can be made easily by removing less productive sheep from your flock or feedlot.
Computer systems available allow you to record any activity conducted with the sheep. For example, when a sheep is drenched, backlined or administered antibiotics, these tasks can be recorded against that animal by simply scanning the tag. Withholding Periods and Export Slaughter Intervals can also be added to this, to ensure that sheep are not sold whilst within a withholding period and not in breach of any market requirements.
In closing, I understand that the electronic NLIS tag is an additional cost to producers, subsidised or not, however, I believe it is a small price to pay to protect our industry. Whether it is a disease outbreak or ensuring the integrity of our export industry, electronic NLIS tags allow us to track individual sheep quickly. We have worked hard as an industry to build our reputation, and we need to keep moving forward to ensure we maintain this reputation and keep our export markets open and trading. This can be coupled with the value add of the tag by using it to record and monitor performance of your flock in a more accurate and easier manner.