Group Encourages Voluntary Electronic Tag Program

Mar 26, 2021  | 7 min  | Ep4632

At one time, a trained eye was able to identify individual animals in the field. Ear tags have made a big difference in day-to-day management. But the increased demand for specific genetics and disease tracking has some farmers investing in an upgrade. 

Colleen Bradford Krantz looks at improvement to identification in the feedlot in our Cover Story.

This newborn bull calf has been given his identification. He is now Number 5 at this Winterset, Iowa farm.

His number will be used to track his birth date, vaccinations and weight as he grows. But when he is sold, and leaves his home farm, many of these records will likely be left behind.

Sixty miles away, at the JDH Wagyu farm near Villisca, Iowa, this newborn bull will be identified with a small button-like tag that includes a radio-frequency transmitter. When read using a hand-held wand, the radio-frequency tag will reveal his nationally unique electronic identification - or EID - number. His records, pulled into a spreadsheet, could easily travel with him to a new home.

Callahan Grund, U.S. Cattle Trace: “From back in the day when we hot branded cattle with the old cowboy wrestlers….we’ve identified cattle throughout history in different forms and fashions. And really started to incorporate electronic IDs in recent years, within the last 10 to 15 years.”

The 15-digit EID number would not only be associated with a birth date, birth location and health information, but could also be shared with USDA through a database to rule out or pinpoint affected cattle in case of a serious disease outbreak.

Callahan Grund, U.S. Cattle Trace: “Of the top 10 beef-exporting nations in the world, only two of them don’t have a disease traceability system in place today. That would be us and India. And India mainly exports water buffalos….That does limit some of our markets from an exporting perspective, but, you know, even more importantly, I think is being proactive here to build a system, a tool that can be used to limit the spread of a potential disease outbreak. That’s really important when we look at not only our food supply, but really our livelihoods as producers.”

The federal government has, in the past, planned to require the use of electronic identification tags. It announced this week it will again delay the most recent plans, but will likely return to the idea in the future.

In the meantime, U.S. Cattle Trace, the Kansas-based nonprofit where Grund is executive director, is trying to establish a voluntary national system for disease traceability.

Cattle producers have been concerned about the additional cost. The tags cost more than the standard ear tags, but the large investment is in the wand and associated computer gear. That equipment can begin around a thousand dollars and move quickly upward.

Dr. Marty Zaluski, Montana State Veterinarian: “There is also some legitimate concerns from ranchers that are afraid that having electronic IDs would just perpetuate and perhaps exacerbate their concerns over lack of competition in and consolidation in the cattle slaughter and processing and marketing environment.”

Dr. Marty Zaluski is more focused on the benefits that EID tags provide to nation’s livestock herd.

Dr. Marty Zaluski, Montana State Veterinarian: “It allows me to rule out producers and ranchers that maybe involved in a disease event. An example in the state of Montana is we were trying to find the source of a cow that was diagnosed with tuberculosis at slaughter… and because of the way that cattle are…co-mingled and sold, that animal came out of a feedlot where there was a possibility of 99 possible sources where that animal could have come from… But if that animal had a tag that was able to be read at slaughter and then correlated to… her birth premises… you would have been able to hassle and trouble one premise instead of 99. ”

JDH Wagyu president Joe Hoye says although it took a little time to adjust to the EID tags, he now can’t imagine getting by without the system.

Nate Orwick, manager, JDH Wagyu: “As we scan it all that information comes to our computer. It has the weight on them and their tag number and any of their previous information we put in… It’s an investment in whatever you are doing, but the cost of the machine and wand versus spending hours typing up information and hand-writing information in and not typing in the correct numbers and weights, that can be costly mistakes down the road.”

Hoye raises Wagyu, a Japanese breed where verifying age, birth premise and genetic line is particularly important to buyers. The American Wagyu Association, as well as organizations that support other breeds, retain much of this data, but the EID system allows for weight and pen location to be added to inventory spreadsheets. Hoye points out that hand-written records can sometimes be inaccurate.

Joe Hoye, president, JDH Wagyu: “There’s lots of opportunity for error…You can’t see it properly or mud or who know what but at the end of the day, it’s much better with that electronic approach because it’s so positive that you know exactly what you do have. ”

Hoye doesn’t lose sleep over the fear some producers have of being liable if their cattle are proven to be the source of an outbreak.

Joe Hoye, president, JDH Wagyu: “I think there’s a little bit of grace there but maybe I’m wrong. I could be wrong but at the end of the day, I think most people, most producers, try to do the best they can to make sure they know what they are selling. There’s always diseases that come up.”

Through U.S. CattleTrace, producers will continue to test the systems, weighing the pros and cons.

Callahan Grund, U.S. Cattle Trace: “We don’t want to mandate anything upon anybody that doesn’t want to participate in a program like this. We want good, proactive people that want to build an animal disease traceability system for the industry.”

By Colleen Bradford Krantz, colleen.krantz@iowapbs.org

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