Cattle age deception in Northern Ireland costs farmers money

Farmers in Northern Ireland suffered serious financial losses when cattle they sent to slaughter turned out to be a couple of months older than their registered age, according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Members of the UFU raised concerns when cattle they had purchased did not have the number of teeth expected compared with the age which had been registered on the Animal and Public Health Information System (Aphis).

In one instance an animal, which was registered as being under 30 months on Aphis, turned out to have eight permanent incisors, meaning the animal was actually over 36 months of age.

The farmers were only made aware of the deception when they presented these cattle for slaughter, having previously purchased the animals under the assumption they were correctly registered. 

These examples of deception where farmers are left out of pocket are rare, according to Elliot Bell, a member of the UFU’s Beef and Lamb Policy Committee, but it is important to be vigilant when buying animals.

The number of incidents is small, but we have had two or three members warn us about it in recent weeks. We just want to raise awareness about the issue, even though it is rare, it could still happen to any farmer.

“It is not a major issue, the incidents that have been reported were spread out and rare, but we would encourage farmers to check an animals mouth before buying.

“When this happens the animal is disposed of, with the genuine farmer left to take the hit. They could lose £1,000 or more. This raises concerns about the traceability of the animal and it is an issue for the Department of Agriculture to deal with,” Bell said.

This is an example of how the illegal actions of a few can lead to the Department cracking down and implementing tighter traceability controls for farmers in general, according to Bell.

On occasions where the number of teeth displayed did not match the registered age, the animal was deemed unfit for the supply chain and condemned by the vet in the abattoir. 

Decisions by the Department’s veterinary staff in abattoirs are based on the Aphis status as well as the number of incisors the animal has.

Under two permanent incisors shows an animal is under 30 months of age, while an animal over 30 months will have between three and seven permanent incisors. An animal with eight permanent incisors or a broken mouth is considered to be over 36 months.