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Tuesday, 5 September, 2000, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Cows get mobile
A herd of cows BBC
Mobile cows are being monitored using mobile phones
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Farmers are finding a novel use for mobile phones that can use the Wireless Application Protocol (Wap).

Some are using it to notify the UK Government about the sale of cattle.

To ensure British beef could be exported in the wake of the BSE epidemic, the government agreed to set up a scheme to monitor the movements of cows and calves.

Now some farmers are using their mobile phones to tell the authorities about where their cattle are going and who is buying them.

Cattle counting

The British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) was set up in September 1998 to monitor the sale of cattle around the UK.

Eddie the Limousin bull calf Maff
Eddie on the day he was logged
The scheme was deemed necessary to reassure consumers in the event of another epidemic, and to show other European countries that enough was being done to ensure the source of future outbreaks could be easily traced.

A Limousin bull calf called Eddie was the first animal to be registered and logged by the system.

The BCMS builds on the passport system that was introduced in July 1996 to record the lifetime movements of British cattle. So far 5,491,984 passports have been issued and almost eight million cattle movements have been logged.

From the date that the system was introduced, it demands to be informed every time a calf is born, dies, is imported, exported, or bought and sold at market.

Postcards printed with bar codes identifying animals are given out when newly born animals get their passport.

Herd instinct

Often it can take days for farmers to fill in the postcards and send them off to the BCMS. Now, some farmers are speeding up the whole process by using mobile phones to pass on information.

"At any one time, there is something like 90,000 cattle that the government is not sure about because postcards have not arrived," said Susan Torrance, managing director of that has launched the Wap service. has been helping farmers computerise stock management since 1998, but the Wap service was launched only last week.

The first WAP recorded movement of a cow took place at the recent Royal Highland Show.

Updated data

Under the system, a farmer would use Wap to dial into and enter details of the cow being sold, exported or slaughtered.

Once the farmers own database is updated, details are passed on to the British Cattle Movement Service.

Ms Torrance says cattle are often moved two or three times during their lives.

Some are sold as calves, others are raised on the farm where they were born, and then sold to other farmers who fatten them for slaughter.

"It is important to know which cattle they are and to uniquely identify them," said Ms Torrance. "If there are future problems we have the ability to trace animals back to the farm of origin, and the groups of animals they have been in contact with."

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