Buying, selling and moving cattle - what are the rules?

by Farmer Liz
When we first started with cattle I found the rules and regulations for buying, selling and moving cattle to be very confusing.  Here are a few tips that you may find useful.  Remember that I am no expert, I'm just telling you what I understand of the system, consider this advice from a neighbour leaning over the fence, please check the details with your local stock inspector or state department of primary industries (or equivalent).

All states and territories of Australia participate in the National Livestock and Identification System (NLIS).  This system is designed to track stock (including cattle, goats and sheep) from birth to slaughter.  Each animal has a number, each property has a number and each movement is recorded in the NLIS database, as well as on an electronic or paper waybill.

eight acres: buying, selling and moving cattle - what are the rules?

The first thing you need to do is get a Property Identification Code (PIC) for your property.  In Queensland this is free, and you can apply through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries here.  Any property where stock are kept, including on agistment, must have a PIC.  When you have a PIC, you can register for an account in the NLIS database here.

You can now buy stock for your property.  These animals should have ear-tags with a unique NLIS number on them.  Do not buy stock that do not have ear-tags (you are just creating work for yourself!).  You must then ensure that these cattle are "transferred" onto your PIC in the NLIS database.  This can be done by either the seller or the buyer.  When you go to sell or slaughter the cattle, you will have trouble if the tag numbers are not registered on your PIC, so double-check that its been done correctly.

If you need to move stock off your property (or if you are transporting them from someone else's property) you will need a waybill.  A waybill is just a form that records the owner of the cattle, the start and destination of the journey and the type and number of animals.  You can use a generic waybill downloaded from your state department of primary industries (or equivalent) website.  If you want to sell cattle into abattoirs (even if via a sale yard), you will need to register for National Vendor Declaration (NVD) Waybills under the Meat and Livestock Associations (MLA) Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) scheme (here).  These waybills also include information about chemicals used on the cattle (and therefore their suitability for slaughter and export).  The waybill must be issued by the person who holds the PIC that the cattle are coming from.

If you're crossing cattle tick lines, you also need to get the animals inspected for ticks and possible also dip or drench the animals.  I don't know much about this side of the process as we generally try to buy tick-free or from producers who do the tick paperwork for us.

If you are planning to breed cattle, you will need your own breeder ear-tags so you can sell them.  Any animal that leaves your property to another PIC will need an NLIS tag.  I think each state is slightly different when it comes to buying ear-tags. In Queensland I have to send a form to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries because a Biosecurity Queensland inspector must endorse each NLIS device order prior to the order being placed with a supplier or manufacturer.  I order the tags online, but many produce stores will also take your order.  The tags are printed with your PIC number and unique animal numbers.  Animals born on your property need a white tag.  If you have animals that have lost tags, you need to replace them with an orange tag.  You will also need to buy a special pair of pliers to insert the tags, and then you're locked into a certain brand of tags as the pliers will only fit one brand.

See why I was confused!  Here's a step-by-step summary:
  1. Apply for a PIC for your property
  2. Register on the NLIS database
  3. Buy cattle with NLIS ear-tags and ensure that they are transferred to your PIC in the NLIS database
  4. Check if the cattle will be crossing tick lines and what you are required to do
  5. If intending to sell cattle at saleyards, order NVD waybills through MLA
  6. Otherwise, download a waybill for your state each time you move cattle from your PIC
  7. If intending to breed cattle, order NLIS tags for your PIC (don't forget your pliers!)
  8. Try to keep the NLIS database up to date when animals have moved to or from your property, animals that have died or been slaughtered on your property, or new tags have been inserted in calves or animals that had lost tags
This system is really not tailored for small-holders who just want to raise a few head of cattle and butcher them on-farm.  Its designed for large farmers who are buying, selling and moving significant numbers of cattle multiple times.  If you are moving large number of cattle, an electronic tag reader is worth the investment.

I hope that helps and remember, I don't know what I'm talking about, so do some research about how this works in your state and make sure you're doing the right thing.  Did I miss anything?

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