Animal identification has been an important component of everyday farming for quite some time. Aspects such as monitoring movements for the purpose of adhering to cross compliance or satisfying the required stocking rate for direct payments or nitrates rules are now part and parcel of all livestock systems.

While these are compliance or scheme related functions, the role of animal identification in promoting greater efficiencies of production or unlocking new technologies is advancing at a fast pace. This is reflected in the increase in usage of bovine electronic tags. Orders of electronic tags are expected to exceed 400,000 in 2020, with the numbers doubling in just a couple of years.

Demand is being driven primarily by dairy farmers keen to unlock new technologies to make data entry and handling of animals easier and more efficient. Equipment such as individual cow identification in milking parlours, automatic drafting gates and automatic calf feeders kickstarted the need to make individual animal identification possible.

New technologies on the breeding front, driven by genomics and genotyping of animals, will continue in the immediate future through the rollover of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) and expansion of breeding programmes across dairying and sheep.

The most likely next development to unlocking more information about bovines is a move to collect tissue samples early in an animal’s life for DNA profiling. The technology is available and the move to incorporate such technologies into the national identification programme will depend on what appetite is present.

Meanwhile, tissue tags under the Bovine Viral Diarrhoea eradication programmes will remain the norm for farmers in Ireland in 2021 and probably 2022 as the country moves a step closer to eradicating the disease and securing TB free status.

This is discussed in detail here, while an update on the Northern Ireland programme is included here.

An explanation of the new tag threshold, which tag manufacturers report is causing some confusion, is detailed here, while revised arrangements for TB testing in light of COVID-19 are described here.