More than five years on from Victoria successfully introducing mandatory sheep electronic identification tags, the other states, including SA, are no closer to following the same path.
A growing number of SA producers have voluntarily implemented eID in their flocks for ease of management and additional data on the performance of individual animals.
Others see the cost - particularly in technology needed at saleyards and abattoirs - as a major stumbling block.
Many believe the state government would need a similar financial commitment to what Vic offered its sheep industry to garner widespread support to move away from the mob-based National Livestock Identification System.
In late 2016, the Vic Labor government provided $17m in funding, with much of this allocated to subsidising the cost of the tags to 35 cents - the same price as visual tags.
This subsidy ended in 2019 and all producers are now paying the retail price of about $1.50-$2 a tag.
Primary Industries Minister Clare Scriven did not directly answer Stock Journal's question about if she had any plans to make electronic tags compulsory in SA flocks.
She said the state government, through PIRSA, engaged regularly with the state's livestock industry on national traceability systems, including the potential of eID for sheep and goats.
PIRSA was supportive of improvements to traceability that assisted with emergency response and maintaining access to international markets.
"Over the past three years the state government through the Red Meat and Wool Growth Program, have taken a proactive approach to the implementation of eID tags by working with producers and service providers in driving the uptake of eID and other precision livestock technologies and to promote the productivity and traceability benefits of this technology so that producers are already utilising it to its full potential should eID tags become mandatory," Ms Scriven said.
Livestock SA has recently received $140,000 in funding through the government's Red Meat & Wool Growth Program and is about to enlist a consultant to evaluate the benefits, costs and risks of implementing sheep eID.
This plan's findings may provide a way forward for the SA sheep industry, which had a farmgate value of $668m in 2020-21, according to PIRSA's scorecard.
Livestock SA supports the voluntary uptake of eID by SA sheep flocks but not a statewide mandate, although president Joe Keynes says they are "actively working" towards how it could be possible.
"We accept that with a national push this needs to happen," he said.
"We have heard they are looking at 2026, not sure if that is the case, but we need to get on the front foot so the whole supply chain can have input into it and there is cost sharing across the SA sheep industry. We want to look at all of the details around eID in Vic and everywhere else and put together a business plan for eID in SA."
Mr Keynes says Livestock SA also recognises improved traceability is important for "resisting biosecurity risks".
For about a decade, Wudinna sheep producer Chris Lymn has been using sheep eID in his Merino flock and says it has easily paid for itself in knowing which ewes to cull or keep.
Years ago Mr Lymn and his wife Leanne started collecting individual data on their flock, reading physical tags they put into their ewes and writing down the data, but about a decade ago they switched to putting eID tags into their ewe lambs.
"It is another tool for us to use, you can't manage what you are not measuring," he said.
"The variation is the biggest surprise at the start, we were finding sheep with 28 micron or 29M and others that were 16M."
Lymn Farms' flock of 1400 ewes have Leader eID tags and, using a hand-held reader, the Lymns collect data on each animal from body weights to fleece weights and micron.
This information - along with the data file supplied by their pregnancy scanner - is put into an index which the Lymns use to cull their hoggets.
"Capturing the data is the easy bit, it is what you do with the data to achieve your breeding objective that is most important," he said.
The Lymns do not tag their wether lambs though as they see far less benefit, especially with processors not yet providing individual carcase feedback.
"We are weighing our lambs a couple of weeks before they go so if they could send back the individual weights, not just a sheet with the total weights of the draft we could work out the dressing percentage," he said.
"We know which lambs are sired by which rams, it might be those by a particular ram may be yielding 48 per cent while another sire group may only be 42pc - we just don't know."
Mr Lymn supports SA introducing mandatory eID for sheep flocks, but only if it can be shown that it will vastly improve traceability in the event of a disease outbreak.
He says the government would need to offer tag subsidies because not all flocks would be able to justify eID on management benefits alone.
"For us it works but for large-scale flocks, say if we were running 20,000 sheep north of here in the Gawler Ranges, buying $2.40 or $2.50 tags is a lot of money," he said.
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