Farmyard Bling

I joked to a friend the other day that I have joined the world of Big Ag, because I have had to join the Pig Trace programme, which includes getting government approved ear tags with unique numbers so that the pigs can be tracked every time I report that I’ve moved them.

It’s no joke of course.  Traceability is something the Canadian Pork Producers associations have been working on for some time.  Disease is part of the business of raising livestock, whether for meat or for products like eggs and milk.  It happens, even on state of the art, super hygienic, bio secure meg farms (maybe more so there, but that’s another topic).  Last year, the Pork Producers and the government finally made it mandatory for ALL pigs to be tagged when when going to slaughter.  The rules are more complicated than that, in that breeding stock movements have to be reported too, but the main concern seems to be that they want to be able to trace where pigs came from when they’ve been slaughtered.

My pigs last year were almost turned away at the slaughter house because they weren’t tagged – it was a month after the deadline for the tagging programme to begin, and I’d somehow got the impression that I’d be exempt because my pigs were born before the cutoff (wrong).  However, they did the job, and I found out later that the government was fairly lenient in the first year of the programme while producers were getting into gear with the new requirements.

However, this year, I knew I’d have to knuckle down and tag the pigs.  The Pig Trace website is a wonderfully succinct little resource, and after perusing it, I duly got myself an account with Pig Trace and ordered three tags (the tags were $1 each, the postage was $12 – hubby said I should have ordered 100 to make the postage worthwhile, but it would take me 30 years to use up that quantity).

chicks arrival 013 small

look carefully – small yellow tags, just visible

Tagging pigs is fun.  I mean fun like roller coaster fun.  There’s the lead up as you prepare your gear, make your plan and get your pigs in a happy place (this involved food of course).  That’s the first uphill slope of the coaster.  Then you make your move, go in, grab the ear, place the applicator and tag – the downhill of the coaster, and squeeze – HARD.  The pig’s head whips up, startled, and that’s the curve after the slope.  the applicator tool releases if the two parts of the tag connected properly through the ear, and the pigs ear just slips away from you.  If it went well, the ride feels pretty good.  If it doesn’t quite go according to plan, well then – the ride gets exciting.  One of the pigs jerked her head just as I squeezed, the applicator slipped out of my hand while still in the pigs ear, and – we’re off.  Pig with set of pliers (the applicator is like pliers) hanging from her ear, banging around, the other two pigs flying around sharing her panic.  Through the electric fence twice – through the wallow, round the shelter, back again.  We finally cornered her, and I was able to finish the squeeze so the ear tag was done, and get the applicator off.  Poor little piggy.  Then I had to do the third pig (the barrow) – whose trust level after all that was not great.  I considered leaving him till later when they were calm again, but fortunately, everyone settled back to their dinners almost immediately, so I went in and tagged him without drama.

But let me tell you – the Pig Trace website gives you no indication of all the fun that ear tagging involves – except for maybe a hint when they mention that tagging a mature pig isn’t a lot of fun.  You need to go to the link here so that you can see just how simple they say the procedure is.  And while you’re there, check out the graphic which portrays where to put the tag in the ear.  It’s a cartoon pig for Pete’s sake, with little x marks for the ear tags.  So cute!  I guess the reality is that the Big Ag farmers all know how to tag pigs already and don’t need a picture.  That’s fine, but if they’re requiring backyard producers (which is essentially what I am) to comply, then a little guidance in the form of a video, or even a photo of a pig with the tag in the correct place would be helpful.

Fortunately there’s YouTube and Google.  Now that I’ve done my pigs, I know why there are zero videos of pigs being done.  It would make the job look a little too exciting.  Actually there is one video – and it does look a little exciting – but I had discounted it because the guy freely admitted it was his first effort at tagging, and it was moreover a different tagging applicator than the one needed for my tags.  A couple of British sites mentioned that food was a good idea while tagging pigs, and a NZ site mentioned that a second person would be helpful, which I’d figured out from the various videos, since not one of them had someone tagging alone, except the cows in crushes.

In retrospect, restraining the pigs might have been a smarter idea, as it would have given me more control and less chance something like that chase with the pig with the applicator banging around her face while she ran. On the other hand, cornered pigs are not happy pigs – they know full well there’s nothing good in it for them, and trying to catch the ear and hold it still might have been the challenge. So, in the end, I’ll probably do it over the feed bowls again next year, but maybe feed in a smaller space, rather than the open paddock, so that I limit the escape routes.  On the upside, I feel better about the tagging process than before I started.  The pigs really only reacted to the tag application for a brief moment (except for pig #2), and were back in their feed bowls within a second or two after I’d tagged them.  They seem oblivious to the tags now. It really does seem much like when my daughters got their ears pierced.

I kept an eye on the pig that got tagged second for a day or two.  I think her ear was a little tender (what a surprise) because she wouldn’t let me touch it, but there’s no seeping or swelling, so I think she’s OK, and this morning I was able to lift her ear to check the underside before she pulled away from me.   I found out after the fact that infection is quite common with tagging, and that there’s yet another gadget you can buy that lets you remove the tag to treat infection if need be.  They certainly don’t mention that on the Pig Trace website either.

Further research also elicited the little gem that I should have figured out for myself – ti’s smart to write down the tag numbers somewhere before you tag the pigs, or right when you do it, because they get muddy pretty fast and therefore illegible.  Now that my pigs have been wearing their earrings for a couple of days, I can see why.  Or rather I can’t see – the numbers have been covered in mud.

chicks arrival 011 small

blue ring, right leg – these birds are 11 weeks old and need to join the main flock

The young chickens got some jewellery this weekend too – and seem to be keeping theirs much cleaner than the pigs.  A partial solution to my flawed plan to keep track of the different generations of chickens in my layer flock involves coloured leg rings.  I was a little daunted by ringing the main flock (50 birds) so we decided to ring the young birds – only 9.  Younger daughter and I whipped through that task just after dusk when the birds were sleepy and were done in 5 minutes.  No website, no video, no infection risks, no adrenaline surge (at least for us, maybe for the birds).

So, anklets and earrings – the youngsters are growing up.

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16 thoughts on “Farmyard Bling

  1. Clever title – makes me think of the tags/rings in a whole different light! Quite an eventful undertaking – and a very funny story, although I’m sure you weren’t laughing at the time. 😏
    Another thing I hadn’t really thought of before, but duly noted for the future.

    • You are so right about it not being quite so funny while it was happening – i had horrible visions of her ripping her ear, of her snagging it on the electric fence that she kept pushing under to escape, etc. Yup, I was pretty lucky. And now I obviously have some fence issues to deal with.

      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        So, other than the necessary repairs, do those “fencing issues” have anything to do with the fact that she now knows that the fence won’t actually kill her and getting at what’s on the other side might actually be worth a little temporary discomfort? I know that, if they’re really hungry enough, some of the Black Bears around here think that beehives are worth the trouble… ): *sigh*

      • This happened to me the first time I had pigs too – if they’re in a flat out panic, they’ll push through anything that pushes – and if they’re fast enough (and panicked pigs are fast, as you probably know), the charge doesn’t seem to affect them. I checked the voltage on the line later when the dust had settled, and it’s a little low – probably because we’re so dry here right now – so she probably didn’t get the zap she should have.

      • I’ve heard that electric has to pretty elaborate to deter a determined bear. It must be those thick fur coats.

  2. Love it! It had definite echoes of our attempt to vaccinate the goats last year. Oh, it’s so easy, I was assured, just pinch the skin here (at least I got a photo with x marks the spot 🙂 ) and slip the needle in. To cut a long story short, there were tears (human), goatie bellows and proceedings were called to a halt by Jude Nextdoor who pointed out running with a syringe was downright dangerous. This year we waited until The Farmer and Princess Nikita were home…it was embarrassing how quickly they knocked the task off.
    And $12 for postage?! Nice to know it’s not just our mail system that knows how to charge.

    • Sounds like your relate – that would definitely have been me running with the syringe. If I had failed at the tagging, I would have tucked my tail beneath me and called an acquaintance who is a 4-H leader, but my pride was involved, and in the end it’s all good, and I’ve learned a new skill.

  3. valbjerke says:

    Good info 😀
    I just last week got the government mail out with the ‘you must tag your pigs’ info. Ours had already gone in for slaughter – no one said anything about tags. We used to have all our own breed stock – nowadays we just pick up a few weavers from another producer. Think I’ll give him a shout and see if he’s going to tag them next year before I order tags.

    • I never got a mail out, but maybe I just beat them to the punch, as I acted based on what happened with my pigs last year. I think ultimately, they will control this whole thing from the processor end, because they will probably empower the inspectors to impose penalties on any facilities not in compliance. It will roll back to producers pretty quickly from there. The whole thing bugs me on a lot of levels, but it’s not going away, and Europe is already tagging swine, so i think we’ll just have to knuckle down to this one.

  4. Bill says:

    It’s good that you’re a good sport about it, I suppose. We don’t have to tag our pigs yet, but it is a requirement now for our goats. They’re pretty easy to tag (well, that’s relative I reckon. Let’s just say they’re a heck of lot easier to tag than a hog would be!). I resisted for as long as I could. The program is technically voluntary, but we’re not allowed to sell at auctions or consignment sales without the tags so it’s de facto mandatory for us. I’m not happy about it, but I don’t think the powers that be care about whether it makes me happy.

    • Pretty much my sentiments, too. Yup, tagging is voluntary for me too, as long as I don’t move my pigs anywhere, or get them slaughtered. So I could home butcher and I wouldn’t have to tag, but I also couldn’t sell any meat. I wonder if I had my own inpsected processing facility would I have to tag? It’s moot because I won’t be doing that.

  5. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    A “voluntary” programme? Ha! Sounds about as voluntary as breathing; )

  6. df says:

    Pig tagging as roller coaster fun? That’s amazing! Sounds like a life-changing experience. If we went down a road that required us to tag, I know it wouldn’t be me doing it – I’m afraid I’d fail awfully. Petkid on the other hand…he’d be on it. Sounds like it’s been a busy summer for you, nice to say hello!

    • Hello back! Yup, busy summer, though not so much on the farm front – just learning to balance my energy and time between full time work and farm and family and…you know. A couple of weeks later, the tags are pretty muddy and obscured and two of the pigs have had a little bleeding which I gather from googling is not uncommon – they’re probably snagging them on something. Got to watch for infection, though. I found out from a friend that sheep have to be tagged too – I think I’d rather tag sheep than pigs…

  7. Well done. The USDA requirements down here are ever growing. Between county health officials, State, and Federal regulations I feel a little put upon. We want to do the right thing of course but it seems like all the rule making makes it harder and harder to establish a small farm. Left and Right wing politics end up making mountains of rules with little regard to small entrepreneurs (in spite of party lines about friend of the small business or free market ballyhoo). It doesn’t help that I’m mulish about authority telling me what to do. Seems like every time we start a project with every intention of being compliant the assumption of those in charge is that we are trying to skirt the rules.

    Keep it up and don’t forget to deduct your applicator, tags, postage, and time in your taxes!

    • Mulish is a good word to describe how I feel about this sort of thing. I can feel small farmers being painted into a corner and I don’t believe it’s going to serve anyone well in the long run. Like you, we want to be compliant with the various layers of officialdom, but the “one size fits all” aspect of laws and regulations speak to me more about efficiency for the official then they do about safety/health/environmental concern for the farmer and/or consumer. I see the point of tagging for both farmer and officials, but my inner conspiracist (apparently not a word!) sees the further advantage for officials to track my pigs for more than just disease or contamination issues. I’m not in any danger with only a couple of pigs a year, but I can think of a few local producers who grow out 100 or more pigs annually, selling the meat locally through direct marketing or small retailers, and happy to do business that way. Right now that’s still legal, but tagging will show the marketing board exactly how many pigs are being processed and where. While tagging is supposed to be about health and safety, it is also about supply managment, and I’m certain that once the association sees how many hogs are being processed outside the supply management system, some form of compliance will be imposed. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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