Farmers unhappy over electronic ear tags for sheep

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Staff Reporter

Windhoek-A floodgate of protest is expected to open this morning at the Anandi Guesthouse in Mariental when the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) will hold its first public meeting to test the water regarding the implementation of compulsory electronic ear tags for sheep exported to South Africa.

Irate farmers in the heartland of Namibian sheep production for export to South Africa told Farmers Forum yesterday that the compulsory implementation of electronic ear tags would just add to the financial woes of producers, who are still battling in the aftermath of three dry years.

It is estimated that these ear tags could cost a sheep farmer with 1,000 ewes at least an additional N$20,000 a year. The second meeting will take place tomorrow at the Schutzenhaus in Keetmanshoop and indications are that sheep farmers will arrive there in even bigger numbers to protest against the implementation of the ear tags.

Details of the implementation plan were not available yesterday but it is believed it is based on the fact that past experience with a number of different diseases, in particular foot and-mouth disease (FMD), has shown that systems based on group (batch) identification do not allow to trace movements of sheep adequately.

As soon as animals move through different holdings, farms, or markets, the composition of the group changes and it is very difficult to track where each animal is going without individual identification and recording.
In the case of a disease outbreak, uncontrolled movements of animals could cause the further spread of disease. Sheep and goats are normally kept and handled in herds and not on an individual basis.

They are often traded via markets or assembly centres, where animals from different farms are re-grouped and further moved to different destinations. To ensure individual traceability by conventional means, it should be possible to read the individual ear tags or tattoos of a large number of animals in a short space of time, which is quite difficult.

The use of electronic transponders allows the automatic reading of individual animal codes directly into a database. With the use of electronic identification, the individual identification of an animal can easily be recorded whenever the animal moves from one holding to another.

Farmers noted yesterday that the ear tags are not a requirement from SA authorities, but that the implementation is driven by the Namibian DVS and they want clear answers today and tomorrow at these meetings.

The unavailability of slaughter-ready sheep (16kg and above) is one of the factors that contributed towards the 4.7% reduction in sheep slaughtered at the export abattoirs between January and May. The quality of the sheep desired by export facilities in terms of their weight and conformation, had been greatly affected by the continuous drought in some of the predominately sheep producing areas.

In total, 31,110 sheep were slaughtered at the B&C class abattoirs, translating into a 9% share of the market, whereas live exports took the bigger chunk of 53% compared to 39% of sheep slaughtered at the export abattoirs.

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