Benefits of NLIS on dairy farms

The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) is Australia's system for identifying and tracking dairy and beef cattle.

By using the NLIS equipment and software, dairy herd management is simplified and gives greater accuracy, which results in greater efficiency and bigger profits.

Accurate identification of cows

The NLIS tag contains a microchip that can be read electronically in using a suitable reader.

By using electronic reading, transcription errors can be eliminated, saving both time and labour in the dairy shed. Electronic identification can also be linked to:

  • pedigree
  • management events
  • treatment records
  • electronic milk meters
  • computer controlled feeding
  • automatic sorting
  • weighing

You are given the opportunity to specify cow management identification numbers when you order NLIS tags, allowing you to maintain the numbering system that you already use for herd identification.

There is also the option of placing a large management tag in the left ear of the cattle, printed with a number matching the serial number on the NLIS tag. The NLIS tag can then act as a back up if the management tag is lost.

Herd testing

One of the biggest advantages of NLIS technology is that herd testing days can now be made easier and less stressful.

Many of the Herd Improvement Centres currently have portable readers that produce a bar-coded sticky label that links the individual cow's ear tag number to the collected sample. This system enables accurate cow identification with her milk sample minimising error on herd testing day. Herd testing results allows you to better manage your cows through accurate identification of milk production, fat and protein content and somatic cell count.

This can be done if you run a larger operation by installing in-line milk meters. This system replaces herd testing day altogether and offers 60 readings a month compared with one or two readings, giving a clearer picture of herd performance. It can also assist in the monitoring of cow health because of access to individual daily production.

Monitoring events

NLIS tags can be used to record animal events such as:

  • heat detection
  • treatments
  • days since calving
  • sire selection

This can result in increased production and profitability by allowing better management of an individual cow's performance through the analysis of the collected data.

It can also assist in identifying animals that are under current withholding periods for antibiotic use (such as herd synchronisation, monitoring for artificial insemination or embryo transfer). It is really only limited by your own needs and use of the technology. There is a wide range of software packages available to assist with data collection, analysis and the generating of reports.

Computer controlled feeding

For cows

Another significant advantage of using NLIS tags is the ability to computer control feeding. Each individual cow can be allocated her own ration according to her own production levels and requirements. This allows feeding to be more targeted, optimising feed management and generating more milk from less feed —  a necessary consideration, particularly in drought conditions where feed prices are high.

A link between software and a cow's NLIS tag allows individual cows to be identified and fed an individual ration according to a range of factors such as milk production, days in milk or group feeding. Up to 6 different feed types can be controlled depending upon the software and feeding system in place.

For calves

Calf feeding can also be computer controlled. Systems are currently available that will allocate a certain milk ration to each calf as identified by their EID.

The calf steps up to the teat, which has a reader along side for identification. This is linked to a computer controlled system which will allow the calf to drink a certain number of litres per day from a refrigerated milk storage unit.

The age of the calf is also recorded and milk allocation can be automatically increased each day until weaning begins, then automatically decreased each day until the calf is ready to put out onto pasture.

This system can:

  • reduce labour
  • increase efficiency
  • maximise return on inputs

Automatic sorting and drafting

Cows with NLIS tags can be automatically sorted from the main herd reducing time and labour costs. Sorting options can be from 1 to 4 ways depending upon the software and equipment available.

Cows can be automatically sorted in many ways including from reports as generated in a software package, as a selected group of animals, from alerts and through manual selection, such as with a key pad located in the pit. This leaves you free to concentrate on milking without having to draft cows as they leave the dairy, and without having to leave the pit. It also reduces stress on both the operators and the cows.

Automatic weighing

NLIS technology can be used on dairy properties in conjunction with a suitable scale, to accurately and quickly weigh cattle. This allows you to quickly identify poorly performing cows that can then be appropriately treated. In addition it can be used as a management tool to ensure heifers are close to their target weight prior to joining to maximise conception rates.

More information

Specific NLIS database queries:

For queries on the NLIS in Victoria:

Visit our National Livestock Identification System section for more information on how to use the NLIS database.

Page last updated: 10 Jul 2023