Menzingen, 27.01.2021

We want to be sheep farmers, not sit in an office

For a year now, sheep and goats have had to be registered with the Animal Traffic Database (TVD ). This represents a considerable amount of work for breeders,. Saro Keinath from Menzingen tells us more.

He owns 300 sheep. In winter, which is the lambing season, about ten lambs are added every day. Farmer Saro Keinath from Menzingen then has to register all of these with the Animal Traffic Database (TVDTierverkehrsdatenbank) within three days, reporting the breed, pedigree and number, the date and place of birth for new-born lambs, and the age and origin when buying adult animals. The same applies to changes to his flock of all kinds, such as the sale or death of an animal. When the farmer moves to the alp in summer with his sheep and the herds of other farmers, he must registers each animal at its home farm and also on the alp. The database therefore provides information at all times on where an animal currently is, who is responsible for its care and in what state of health it is. Each sheep also receives two ear tags, one of which includes a data chip.

"The purpose of checking the movement of animals is the fight against animal disease on the one hand, and the quality assurance for food of animal origin on the other," explains Ueli Staub from the branch of the Zug Farmers' Association, stressing: "This ensures the traceability of the animal."

This obligation has been in place for some time for horses and cattle, continues Ueli Staub. The new registration requirement for goats and sheep was started last year as a pilot project. "From January 2021, appropriate sanctions will be imposed if a farmer does not comply with the rules and registers an animal too late or with incorrect information."

Errors are sanctioned
"Errors can happen quickly," says Saro Keinath. The database reacts immediately if, for example, when selling an animal, the de-registration information does not exactly match that of the new registration by the buyer. The CHF 4.50 that he receives when registering the birth of an animal will be deducted from him in the event of an error. The prescribed ear tags also cost money, at just under two francs per animal, plus shipping costs.

The systems do not communicate with each other
In order to be able to cope with the situation with a large herd, the 46-year-old farmer has created a reader unit, with which he can read the data stored in the chip of the ear tags. "Unfortunately, I can't transfer this data directly to the TVD, but have to re-enter it into the computer. The systems don’t communicate with each other, so it takes a lot of time." It’s true that an app is being developed for this purpose, but its use will cost CHF 200 per year. Keinath says: “Animal welfare is, of course, also our top priority as shepherds. But I think that if the federal government sets up rules and regulations for us, it must also ensure a workable application with a functioning interface."

Photo 1: Sheep farmer Saro Keinath from Menzingen takes care of the welfare of his animals.
Photo 2: A well-tuned team: Saro Keinath and his dog Dingo.

Photos: Stefan Kaiser (25 January 2021)

In his view, a system of this kind must be fully developed before farmers are held accountable. "The administrative burden is getting bigger and bigger. But we want to work as shepherds, not sit in the office." The time spent on this administration means there is less time for the care of the animals. "In addition, older farmers often struggle to understand it all, and give up instead."

A complicated situation with a high potential for frustration
Thomas Rickenbacher, president of the Zug Farmers' Association (Bauernverband) and himself a farmer, also confirms that the tendency for increased administration is causing discontent among farmers. And he can understand that. "The time required for administration is increasing in many areas, despite electronic processing, which should make the whole thing easier." The situation is often complicated and difficult to understand, and the potential for frustration among farmers is high as a result.

The Agricultural Office (Landwirtschaftsamt) always provides valuable support, however. "Electronic data collection also has big advantages: there is much less paper and everything is more controllable." The careful registration of animals is, in particular, a great advantage as far as disease control is concerned. "If you care about the welfare of animals, you cannot be fundamentally negative about it." It also helps to protect the farmers themselves if they knew where an epidemic came from. In the case of sheep and goats, this is mainly foot rot, a non-fatal, but very painful and highly contagious disease of the claws, which makes it difficult for the animals to stand and walk.