Tim Fulton

Many farmers are missing a key step in National Animal Identification Tracing (Nait).

The beef and dairy-backed Mycoplasma bovis programme describes Nait as “the most powerful weapon we can deploy against the spread of M. bovis”.

A recent M. Bovis circular says “it has become clear that many farmers aren’t aware that they were required to register tags against animals in the system – that this isn’t an automatic step.”

Nait tags must be registered against individual animals, rather than a property. Animal management agency OSPRI, manager of the Nait system, is using a process called auto-registration to reconcile tag data against Nait livestock records.

Auto-registration recognises when a tag is applied to an animal, but the animal is not registered and linked to its Nait tag.

Nait head of traceability, Kevin Forward, said 41% of animals that were registered in Nait were auto-registered in 2018.

In May 2019, Nait sent out about 24,000 compliance reminders, or “Nait nudges” to anyone who auto-registered. At the time, Nait wanted to reduce non-compliance to about 30% within six months, Forward said.

While the percentage dropped to 28% by December 2019, tag registration varied over the year. Compliance tended to be cyclical, with less done over busy periods like calving and more over summer, for example.

Forward said everybody at Nait was surprised at the continuing level of non-compliance, especially considering how long the scheme had been running and the fundamental importance of registering tags.

South Canterbury dairy farmer and South Canterbury Federated Farmers president, Jason Grant, said stiffer Nait law and penalties for non-compliance had made farmers more aware of their responsibility to register Nait tags against individual animals.

“The curly part is that people thought that all they had to do was put in a tag that’s registered to a farm and not just an animal.”

M.bovis had also raised awareness of the value of accurate recording. Grant said he used to think of his two dairy farms and nearby runoff block as a closed system. It’s why he never thought much about Nait recording for moving stock down the road to the grazing block, but in hindsight his Nait compliance four or five years ago was “quite lax”, he said.

“We never used to understand our responsibilities around Nait. We’ve now lifted our game.”

The farm now had a couple of electronic ID wands, was registering Nait tags against individual animals and recording all stock movements, including transfers to the grazing unit.

Wands were still fairly expensive but they helped to capture data, right down to knowing exactly how many stock were going to grazing. Nait records for individual animals made a difference, Grant said.

It was still hard to find time to register animals into Nait at busy times like calving but all tag information went into a book to be later logged into Minda. The process was especially important for recording the females, he said

Forward said under auto registration, as soon as a Nait tag was recorded as an animal movement, Nait recorded it as being ‘unused’ and activated a change of status for the animal.

A tag was considered ‘unused’ when it was ordered from a tag supplier or manufacturer, then uploaded to a Nait account before being applied to stock.

Nait tags were assigned to a specific Nait location, so if a farmer had multiple Nait locations, then tags should be assigned to the different areas. Some tags could have the Nait location printed on them, depending on what the farmer had requested and whether scanners were available.

When a farmer tags an animal, they must activate the tag by going into the Nait system, or use third-party Minda or FarmIQ software, to select that tag and record the animal’s birth information.

These steps started an animal record in Nait, proving that a tag was linked to a particular animal record and creating an approved, traceable animal movement.