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Tag losses higher on cows

News Roundup from the February 2016 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

cow with ear identification tag

It won’t be long before the industry may have some answers to a problem that has long been the ire of beef producers — tag retention for animal identification.

The final report on the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency’s (CCIA) national tag retention project will be made public on its website this April along with details on retention rates for each of the seven makes of tags approved for animal identification in Canada and one of the Quebec-approved tags.

Project leader Ross Macdonald says considering that the retention rate for calves was quite high, averaging 98.9 per cent in the first 18 months of the pro­ject, he wasn’t sure what to expect for the mature cows. Preliminary findings indicate that it is lower at 89.7 per cent.

“This is in line with what we have been hearing on the ground that tag retention in calves isn’t the problem. The problem is with the cows,” says Macdonald a consultant and cow-calf producer from Lake Alma, Sask.

The preliminary mature-cow findings included data from 13 project herds scanned in 2014 out of 18 herds in all. Macdonald and Dr. Paul Jefferson, vice-president of operations for the Western Beef Development Centre, who has been involved in the project from the design stages through statistical analysis, will be poring through the four years of data once the final scans wrap up this winter.

Macdonald and an assistant tagged more than 5,000 head of commercial cattle beginning at spring processing in 2011 for most of the 3,600 calves, and at fall preg checking for most of the cows, with the remainder tagged in 2012.

Herds selected for the project were spread out from British Columbia through Ontario and ranged in size from 76 to 535 head to put tag performance to the test under differing geographies, climates and styles of farming.

All project-tagged animals remaining in the herds have been scanned annually. Some of the cows in the mature-cow analysis were tagged as calves and retained in the breeding herd, while some of the mature cows tagged the first year have since been culled.

Whereas there wasn’t much variability in tag retention rates across the makes of tags and location of the herds for fall-weaned calves and yearlings, retention was quite variable for the mature cows. This brought the overall retention rate for all ages of project cattle to the end of 2014 down to an average of 88.9 per cent. It ranged from a low of 64.7 in some herds to 100 per cent in others.

The final report will lend some insight into reasons for tag loss and how producers might improve retention rates and readability. It will include the complete project description and statistical analyses of tag retention rates for cattle of all ages across all project herds, tag losses by herd and tag loss and read rates by make.

It will then be up to the CCIA board to decide on the next step for this research. The original project called for following tag retention through the lifetime of the cows, which would normally be eight or nine years.

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