Ovine Observer

The WA NLIS Sheep and Goat Advisory Group – 12 months on

Beth Green, Chair and Livestock Identification & Traceability Manager, DPIRD
Author correspondence:


The WA National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) Sheep and Goat Advisory Group (SGAG) was established in November 2021 as a forum to discuss, consult, develop and communicate traceability enhancements across the commercial sheep and goat supply chain, and with non-commercial stock owners. While all components of traceability would be on the agenda, the impetus for forming the group was maximising the time for preparation for the expected national agreement to mandate individual electronic identification (eID) in sheep and goats.

Four meetings have been held over the past year, one in Katanning, with the fifth scheduled for 15 December 2022.

On 9 September 2022, all Australian Agriculture Ministers approved the implementation of the National Biosecurity Council proposal for eID for sheep and goats and agreed to work towards mandatory implementation in each jurisdiction by 1 January 2025.

A national Sheep and Goat Traceability Taskforce (SGTTF) has been convened and is developing harmonised national business rules and funding arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. The SGTTF will report back to Ministers in December 2022 with progress.

One purpose of the WA Advisory Group is to make recommendations to DPIRD on how mandatory eID could be implemented for a well prepared and effective transition. This advice will be used to inform state government decision-making, including any requests to access national and state funding opportunities.

For DPIRD to receive additional funding from the WA Government for eID, a business case needs to be approved by the Minister and then submitted for consideration as part of the WA budget process. Developing the business plan in partnership with industry will give DPIRD the best chance of achieving a successful outcome.

Members of the Advisory Group consider that an effective traceability system, in addition to being economically beneficial, is of vital public interest for maintaining food security across the whole of the livestock industry, and agreed that this situation needs to be communicated as part of any business case for eID tag subsidies.

During the past four meetings, members of the SGAG have:

  • Reviewed DPIRD commissioned reports on the implementation of eID in Victoria and on the supply chain infrastructure, tags and staffing required to mobilise eID in WA;
  • Invited WA visual tag manufacturers to the discussion as a significantly impacted sector;
  • Workshopped practical transition timeframes, activities and potential subsidies; and 
  • Considered how the whole industry can address areas for improvement in the other components of traceability with a co-branded communications package.

Discussions are summarised below.

Report one: Reviewing the Victorian program

ACIL Allen was commissioned to write two reports. The first was a review on the implementation of eID in Victoria and what could be learnt prior to beginning the journey in WA. Findings included:

  • WA is currently functioning at a higher level of traceability than what Victoria started with, which should be taken into consideration when determining the implementation process, including transition timeframe.
  • It is necessary to keep the year-of-birth colour system active for animal husbandry purposes.
  • Once mandatory, all sheep should be tagged with an eID and all scanned at each location they move through (no staggered commencement dates or scanning rates for different locations after 1 January 2025).
  • Tag rebates should be applied at the tag manufacturer level to reduce handling.
  • Filling the nine proposed support staff positions could be difficult with a staffing shortage across all sectors currently.
  • As many goat purchasers are non-commercial owners with limited agricultural experience, it would rest with studs and producers to meet the NLIS movement recording requirements on their behalf.

Report two: Cost to implement

The second ACIL Allen report provided cost estimates for implementing infrastructure through the supply chain, tagging lambs/kids, retagging existing stock and employing staff to support industry. The report will be one of several inputs, including data analysis and stakeholder engagement, that will help inform DPIRD’s final position on the costs of implementing mandatory eID.

A priority in both the review and future implementation is to maintain the flow rate of animals through the supply chain. Throughput and functionality to meet mandatory compliance was considered for the different sectors: producers, feedlots, saleyards, processors, livestock agency-run sales and export depots. 

If government agreed to provide funding to support the purchase and installation of infrastructure, it would be allocated through a grants process. A contingency fund of $250 000 was included to address any requirements missed in the consultation process, or incorrectly estimated through extrapolation. The contingency fund would also be available for the establishment of contract scanning services.

Costs for producers are associated with the purchase of eID tags. The current flock size is around 15.3 million sheep, of which about 6.2 million are lambs and kids that will require a year-of-birth coloured tag. Approximately 3 million older sheep move each year, which would need re-tagging. Should NLIS device subsidies be made available, one calculation method used was based on 50% of net cost for an NLIS eID tag compared to a visual tag. Actual subsidies will be determined by how much funding is received, and the timeframe to access any subsidy.

Panel reader/scanner sets would be required for sheep as the tags are on either side of the head. Panels are relatively cheap, however the costs of installation and associated retrofitting into existing infrastructure needed to be considered. Costings were estimated as a guide, based on feedback received through consultation, and actual costs will be unique to each site and will require professional assessment.

Livestock agencies and Community Recourse Centres (CRCs) in sheep dominant areas will be considered for provision of handheld scanners for producer access if needed. These will build on the scanners already placed across the regions for cattle producers.

All funding allocated to the implementation of eID will be associated with making the system work to meet traceability requirements. It will not support optional infrastructure, such as hook tracking at processors or on-farm production management.

Tagging manufacturers

Accredited electronic NLIS tags can be found on the Integrity Systems website. At ordering, the species to be tagged is nominated (sheep or goats) and the tag details are uploaded accordingly to the NLIS database. As only one eID can be used at a time to avoid scanning interference, tags that are not accredited will need to be removed from 1 January 2025.

A & A Branding, Stockbrands, Swingertags/Tallytags and Pinnacle Products are aware eID was coming but not all are currently able to produce accredited eID tags. However, despite mandatory eID in Victoria, producers are still requesting visual tags for their on-farm management of livestock.

Patricia Forehan from Stockbrands explained the difficulties in achieving an NLIS approved eID product, which took them three years for full accreditation.

Those producers who already use electronic identification have noted that 6weeks was a realistic delivery timeframe, but it had been extended with increased demand coupled with a worldwide shortage of transponders (microchip in the eID tag). Producers must be organised with their orders to ensure they are received on time.

While only one eID tag can be used on an animal, visual tags can still be used for management. Year-of-birth coloured visual tags should still only be used in the correct ear for gender, especially if they look exactly like an eID tag. It is illegal to use a tag that causes confusion with required year of birth or pink tags.

It is not possible to recycle the electronic tags from abattoirs without damaging the transponder in the removal process. The transponders are locked and cannot be re-used within the same industry for 20 years. The amount of copper within the tag is not worth the process of extracting it.

Goat hock bands

The Goat Industry Council of Australia (GICA) have been working for several years to find an alternative identification method for dairy goat breeds, miniature and earless goat breeds.

The use of standard NLIS devices in dairy goats has been problematic due to the adverse reactions that can occur in their ears. Miniature and earless goats have been included due to the physical difficulties in applying tags to small ears or in the absence of ears.

An eID hock band in a single colour of yellow, or pink as required, has been approved to be fitted around the rear leg of goats. It can be expanded for animal growth but cannot be retracted back in. Owners of these breeds will still be able to use eID ear tags if they choose to. 

Co-branding communication material

From the first Advisory Group meeting, the disconnection across the supply chain in communicating and understanding the responsibilities under WA’s current traceability system was discussed. WAFarmers proposed that a co-branded communications package would be worthwhile for consistent messaging across the supply chain, which aligned with the PGA’s concern that focussing on changing just the tag type would not improve the whole traceability system. 

Some of the issues to be covered by the co-branded program include:

  • Incomplete, illegible and outdated NVD waybills: a common problem along the supply chain which makes it difficult for accurate information to be entered in the NLIS database.
  • Expired stock owner/brand registrations (and then LPA): extremely time-consuming at abattoirs, saleyards and export depots.
  • All properties with stock need to be registered with a Property Identification Code (PIC).
  • Identification: planning to make sure all stock are correctly identified prior to leaving the property.
  • The NLIS database: irregular use by many producers makes it difficult and time-consuming when they do; lack of awareness of need to record movement to a new PIC on the NLIS database within the 48-hour timeframe.

Material that explains the ‘how’ has been developed for business operators to distribute to clients and vendors. The Where’s Woolly video has been developed to explain the ‘why’.

Following that meeting and the Ministers’ decision to approve the mandating of eID, the development of FAQs and a webpage are being progressed to address the key questions and provide familiarity with the eID system.

Transition workshops

Significant discussion has been held on which aspects need to be implemented first, and how each year will follow. Now that there is a target date, the proposed plan has progressed but will depend on availability of funds to commence and be more definite.

In general, the WA plan relies on providing incentives for producers to start using eID tags (during lamb and kid marking in 2023 and 2024) in preparation for the 1 January 2025 mandatory implementation date, while preparing the downstream supply chain with readers and infrastructure to be up and working by the due date. In this way, both the tagging and infrastructure come together in time for a successful implementation.

The use of a single colour eID tag to identify existing stock on property (in addition to keeping any visual tags) prior to movement off property would ease the burden for manufacturers in the short-term and be more practical than having to re-tag, for example, a green tagger with a green eID, and purple with purple. In this regard it was noted that:

  • A non-year of birth colour would not be suitable, as estimating the number required would be too difficult and any surplus could not be used.
  • Yellow was generally accepted as the best colour as it won’t return to use until 2029, it is the standard colour NLIS tag for sheep in the eastern states and any surplus – held by manufacturer or producer - could be kept for later use.

The time to having all existing sheep on property eID tagged has not been discussed. 1 January 2025 is when all sheep and goats moving off their properties of consignment and all lambs/kids born are electronically identified and will be scanned as they make their way through the supply chain.

A tagging subsidy needs to consider:

  • how long a subsidy would ideally be provided for, noting a longer time would likely result in a smaller subsidy rate
  • when the best start date for the subsidy would be, relative to the transition period prior to 1 January 2025
  • whether the subsidy rate should be fixed or variable over the period.

Members agreed that the longer the time available for preparing for the new system the better, with a minimum 12 months necessary for ensuring all infrastructure, hardware and software systems are in place and functioning. It was suggested to break down the time prior to 1 January 2025 into a six-month installation and training period (Jan - June 2024) and a 6-month trialling and testing phase for feedlots, abattoirs, saleyards and export depots (Jun-Dec 2024).

Implementation of infrastructure and hardware grants could be deployed retrospectively (on invoice/receipt), or prospectively (on business case and quote); single orders (per business) or bulk (multiple businesses).

Several producers have already transitioned to eID which could be useful in trialling animals moving through the entire supply chain to identify any issues in advance. The ability to demonstrate real movements to others will help to show the benefits in traceability for individually identified animals.

SGTTF Round Table

Two SGAG members; Steve McGuire as State Farming Organisation representative (WAFarmers) and Steve Wainewright as Supply Chain representative (Saleyards), meet with the SGTTF virtually for national Round Table State Producer Group meetings. Two have been held so far, reviewing the background to the decision to mandate eID and to see the outcomes of the federal co-design program which has generated material to assist industry in understanding their requirements under the NLIS Sheep and Goats.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the WA Sheep and Goat Advisory Group will be held on 15 December 2022 in Perth. If you are interested in attending along with your usual industry representatives, please phone Executive Officer, Jemma Thomas, on 0459 850 569.