DNA tissue sampling - your questions answered

9 July 2014

Following the Society’s press launch of its ground breaking DNA initiative, the Society has received a number of enquiries from members as to how it will operate and what they will need to do.  In response to enquiries, Assistant Breed Secretary Neil Caul has updated the previous information on the website and offers the following:
Do I have to sample all calves?  It is proposed that a tissue sample will be taken from every pedigree calf when it is tagged and sent to Identigen, the Society’s service provider, at regular intervals for storage. DNA samples will only be profiled as and when the Society requires this to be carried out. In effect this is the same situation as is in place at the moment with tail hairs being collected when the animal is much older. It is easier to take a tissue sample when tagging the calf than it is to catch an older animal and all the hassle that involves.
What is the cost to the breeder?  Tissue sampling at time of tagging will be cost neutral to the breeder i.e. it will be no more expensive than your current tags.  The only additional cost will be the postage of the jiffy bag containing the samples to Identigen. Pre-addressed jiffy bags will be supplied with the tags. The tissue samples are sealed in a small plastic tamper proof tube which is retained in the application pliers so can’t be dropped or lost. It is pre-printed with the tag number of the calf and is bar coded with the same information.  There is no additional paperwork and hence no opportunity for mistakes.
Why Caisley Tags?  The Society undertook a due diligence process covering all the major tag manufacturers and suppliers before selecting Caisley. Caisley is the second largest manufacturer of livestock identification tags in the world with a production capacity of over 80 million tags per annum. It is a world leader in tissue sampling tags.
The DNA tissue sample tag has been in commercial use for more than seven years. It is used exclusively in Germany and a number of other countries for BVD eradication programmes and also by a number of European breed societies and by governments including DEFRA for the TB eradication programme in England and Wales.
The 99% tag retention rate quoted by the company is based not on trials, but on commercial sales to countries around the world where the supply of tags to farmers is managed by Government Agencies, the equivalent of DEFRA. Tag retention is a key criteria on winning and retaining these contracts.
Who owns the tissue sample?  Ownership of the sample and any DNA test results remains with the breeder although the Society reserves the right to publish any information that results from the DNA profiling of the sample such as corrected parentage information and Myostatin results for example.
Do we have to change tags immediately? No, your existing tag batches can be finished. If you so wish you can return existing tags to Caisley and they will reissue tissue sampling tags at half price. Applicators for Caisley tags will be issued free of charge.
Does Caisley offer replacement tags free of charge? Caisley will replace FOC any tags that are lost as a result of tag failure. Caisley will investigate on-farm if tag loss in any one year is in excess of 1%.
What if I have a commercial herd of cows as well as pedigree Aberdeen-Angus?  You can use your existing tag supplier as normal for commercial cattle and simply order tissue and management tags from Caisley. Some breeders have opted for switching all to tissue tags as tag price is comparable to existing visual tag price, sending pedigree samples to Identigen and using the second tissue sample as part of its BVD eradication programme if they are in such a programme. One set of pliers and one set of tags does everything.
If we need to have the tissue tags for pedigree cattle pre-printed how do I know which tags it will be? Tags supplied by Caisley will be in number sequence and supplied in batches of 20 tags. Tag numbers will be issued to Caisley by DEFRA or their equivalent, in the same way tag numbers are issued to your current tag supplier. Tagging calves in number sequence is not a DEFRA requirement and you can therefore use different batches of tags for your pedigree and commercial cattle born at the same time.