Tagging to keep on track

Tracking cattle is made easier with technologically -advanced ear tags and can help keep food and animals safe, a livestock and bio-security specialist says.

Tracking cattle is made easier with technologically -advanced ear tags and can help keep food and animals safe, a livestock and bio-security specialist says.

And a federal bio-security grant was recently renewed, helping to ensure North Dakota State University can continue working on its cattle tracking program. The program features technologically-advanced ear tags that allow cattle to be tracked via radio frequency.

"The basis for the animal ID program is that by utilizing identification of animals you can trace back potential diseases and animal health issues to the point of origin," said Mick Riesinger, a livestock and bio-security specialist for the Dickinson Research Extension Center. "Then you don't have to go through long procedures because all of that costs time and effort."

In situations of disease outbreaks, Riesinger said, an animal's location can quickly be pinpointed because of a microchipped ear tag.

Stockmen's Livestock has hosted frequency tag demonstrations.  Larry Schnell, of Stockmen's, said there's no doubt the tags work, but feels the value to the cattle producer is still yet to be determined.


 "There are two sides to this, some that think there is (value) and there are those that think there isn't," Schnell said.

Eventually, Riesinger said he hopes stockyards, United States Department of Agriculture officials and producers will be able to implement the technology in all cattle.

"Right now it's a voluntary program and is really in its infancy," Riesinger said.

Schnell said he believes some producers are concerned if the electronic tagging becomes mandatory, when disease is spotted, it would be traced back to the producer of that animal right away, even if the disease happened somewhere else along the line.

The program, which has been around for a number of years, has evolved, Riesinger said.

"We have developed newer technology to allow for read rates that are further distances and a higher percentage of reads," he said. "By doing that, you eliminate stress on the animal, time and those types of things."

Newer tags read anywhere from 10 to 30 feet. While the older tags featured a low frequency, higher frequency allows for much greater distances.

Cost for the tags is about $2, about the same as regular cattle tags, Riesinger said, and is relatively painless for animals.


Pilot work is done at a Kansas cattle lot, Riesinger said.

Calls for information about the program have come from all over the United States and world, including Mexico, Brazil and Canada, he said.

Concern for a safe food supply has driven more consumer support, Riesinger said.

A concern among producers, he said, is the belief that the new tags will allow too much information about operations to be available, such as how animals are fed.

"It's not that case at all," Riesinger said. "All it does is, if you've got an animal with some disease it will say that it's at a certain location, it doesn't say what you fed it, protocols for health or anything like that."

Riesinger said electronic animal identification may be required in the future. If that happens, he said, officials want to be ready as there are still kinks in the program.

The program is a partnership between Dickinson Research Extension Center, Dickinson State University and North Dakota State University.

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