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Cattle thefts a growing risk as COVID cools branding irons

Statewide

While irritating for all of us, COVID restrictions are at least unlikely to prove a pain in the backside for Queensland’s cattle herd.

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The Palaszczuk Government has tweaked the state’s 105-year-old Brands Act, removing the need for farmers to brand cattle over 100kg liveweight for sale.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the change was made to protect cattle producers, especially those running smaller operations, from coronavirus exposure.

“The action of branding is often done in close proximity so the exemption will assist primary producers to manage their COVID-19 health and safety obligations in the workplace by reducing exposure risks for workers,” he said.

Branding is used to establish legal ownership and is compulsory for cattle and pigs when they are offered for sale in Queensland.

Previously only exemptions have applied for approved stud cattle sales and calves under 100kg liveweight.

Industry groups such as AgForce have welcomed the move, despite some concerns the new relaxation may cause a rise in theft of unbranded cattle.

AgForce Cattle Board president Will Wilson said his directors had discussed the government’s proposal ahead of the change and agreed the risk was small.

“All producers should have equal rights and if the smaller producer with 25 head, for example, can’t get the contract musterer because they’re worried about the potential of being exposed to COVID, then good on the department for taking this action is where we stood in the end,” Wilson said.

While the action may be aimed at reducing exposure to coronavirus, Wilson concedes the branding freeze may expose his industry to further scrutiny of a practice that animal welfare groups say is cruel and unnecessary.

Wilson said he welcomed that discussion but remained adamant branding was still the most effective way to prove legal ownership – especially in Queensland where harder country and climate takes a toll on other identification systems, such as plastic ear tags.

“Branding is absolutely necessary until we can find another effective way of proving ownership,” he said.

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