A large number of cattle found to have survived the great floods have no tags or markings to indicate an owner, and as murky waters recede, the problem of re-homing these stoic creatures has exposed a compliance problem within the National Livestock Identification System.
In many cases cattle were true clean-skins, with no tag let alone ear mark or brand.
"We found the same during the bushfires," says NRLX manager Brad Willis.
"There is no law to say that cattle remaining on their property of origin need a tag, but never-the-less this flood event has exposed a big issue with transactions taking place outside of the saleyards without being updated on the NLIS system, particularly on-line and paddock sales."
Digital platforms typically point out to clients that NLIS transfers can be done for an additional charge.
There is no enforcement of non-tagged cattle during sales as always it is the buyer's responsibility to transfer purchased animals onto their property identification code in the NLIS database.
As with cleanskins found after the fires, there have been cases of duffing cattle through the digital marketplace with the NSW Rural Crime Squad investigating.
From a bio-security point of view, traceability of cattle movement is important to all producers and is one reason why Local Lands Services invests resources to promote the system.
"There are lots of issues needing attention," Mr Willis says. "The NLIS system needs a serious overhaul. The system in theory is excellent but compliance with that system is terrible."
At the Casino saleyards, where found cattle are being fed and cared for, there have been 1500 head processed so far. Many were brought-in by vendors in their own trucks after finding them. Those with tags were sent home others went away on agistment.
"Of the 200 head still reported as missing, I would say 99 per cent do not have an ear tag," he said.
With cattle so pricey at the moment - $35 million went through the NRLX during March, while financial year 2021-2022 looks to gross $200m, up from $143m last year - there is little wonder duffers have been caught in the net intended to re-home flood cattle.
"We don't have the legal teeth required to fix this problem," said Mr Willis. It is up to the LLS and DPI and Rural Crime to solve this but unfortunately we don't have the numbers and yet there's a real need for that considering the value of cattle right here. Rural Crime brought additional support to the area following the floods however there needs to be a consistent presence.
"NLIS transaction compliance is very loose for an industry worth so much," he said. "We need to do better."
Mr Willis recommends ear tags for every producer and to insert them at six months of age.
"Doing that would go a long way to helping identify and return cattle after these natural disasters."
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