Remember the puzzles you put together as a child? Large shapes, bright colors and easy solutions led to more difficult challenges as your reasoning skills improved.

U.S. livestock producers are in the midst of the ultimate puzzle — a national animal ID system. The total number of pieces is unknown; the final picture isn’t completely clear; the time frame is years, and no single person or entity is going to put it all together.

A framework has been developed, however, and several states are already leading the way. These programs will set the standard for the rest of the country. Even if your state hasn’t started yet, pay attention to what these early-adopters are doing. Chances are, one of these programs will be duplicated in some form by your state.

Individual states have several choices to set up premises- and animal-ID systems that report to the national repository, says John Wiemers, who works on the national animal-ID program staff of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “States can either create their own program, contract with a third-party, or adopt the Standardized Premises Registration System,” he notes.

Producer participation remains voluntary unless your state has made it mandatory.

Early adopter
Wisconsin was an early-adopter of a premises- and animal-ID system. The state stepped toward an animal ID plan when multi-species organizations, industry and government representatives formed the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC) in early 2002.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin state legislature passed legislation that requires all livestock premises in the state to be registered by November 2005. To achieve this goal, WLIC partnered with several key industry entities to help producers register their premises and meet the deadline.

“We’re working with industry groups that already spend time on farm and allow them, with producer approval, to register premises on behalf of producers,” says Robert Fourdraine, WLIC chief operating officer. “However, producers are still in charge of the decision as to who they want to work with to register their premises.”

WLIC also created a prototype premises-ID system that’s been standardized and transferred to USDA. It is now used in 10 states, including Wisconsin, to register the location of livestock operations. So far, at least 10 other states have asked USDA to use this system. Work is also under way on the next phase of the system — individual animal ID — even though the final national guidelines have not yet been determined.

Pilot projects through WLIC are under way to determine which approaches or procedures are best for dairy, beef and other species groups. Two dairy projects, for example, examine how animal ID can be used to track individual animal performance data all the way through to DHI sampling. “We’re looking at practical field experiences, and how animal ID fits into management,” says Fourdraine.

Flexible options
Not all states have chosen to follow the Wisconsin model in standard premises ID.  

Nebraska, for example, developed its own ID system known as NAVE or Nebraska Animal Verification Enhancement system.

Although the NAVE system diverges from others, it still conforms to the standards of the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) — the underlying linchpin of all of the programs.

“NAVE allows a level of flexibility to producers, particularly beef producers, that enables them to link a farm’s operational headquarters with cattle that are not geographically adjacent to those headquarters,” explains Greg Ibach, assistant director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. “This is a flexibility that other systems don’t allow, but we need in this area of the country.”

   He notes that this adjustment improves producer buy-in and builds a foundation for future program modifications as the national system continues to develop. The NAVE system looks to be a good pattern for Western states with similar geography and production methods.

Disease case study
Some programs grew out of an immediate need in the animal-health arena. 

A recurrence of bovine tuberculosis in the late 1990s created an economic challenge to Michigan beef and dairy producers. The disease affects the movement of more than 1 million cattle in the state annually.

To combat it, Michigan developed a bovine-TB-eradication program that features a premises- and animal-ID program with trace-back capabilities.

The program received state legislative support early on, and went from voluntary to mandatory. Initial funds were provided from both state and federal sources. As a result, Michigan effectively solved the animal- and premises-ID issue by blending information and cooperation with industry needs and legislative mandates.

Thus far, all current dairy and beef operations have premise IDs, says Kevin Kirk, special assistant to the division director, Michigan Department of Agriculture. And more than 100,000 animals have been tagged with radio-frequency-ID tags so far.

The state aims to expand individual animal RFID tagging beyond the TB-infected area soon. It plans to begin with animals in the Upper Peninsula (UP), since the region has already achieved split-state status for TB.

“The goal is to have all UP cattle radio-frequency-ID tagged by June 30, 2005,” says Kirk. In addition, “RFID readers have been installed in several livestock markets, and MDA can trace the movements of tagged animals within 15 minutes,” he adds.

The program features National Farm Animal Identification and Records as a third-party data manager. National FAIR has more than 1.3 million cattle in 47 states in its database, according to Jodi Luttropp, National FAIR coordinator.

Involvement is key
The national animal-ID system will eventually affect every producer — big and small. If your state is just beginning to phase-in its systems, chances are it will be a variation of one of the programs discussed here.

Officials throughout the livestock industry say it is imperative that individual producers and their state organizations be a part of the solution in order to avoid problems with the animal-ID system in the future.

USDA wants the program to have flexibility, but the flexibility cannot be built into the system unless producers voice their concerns or specific circumstances ahead of time, so those concerns can be addressed up-front.

Now is the time to voice any concerns you may have. For more information about national efforts, go to these Web sites:

Also, contact your state ag agency to find out its plans for premises and animal ID, and how it will affect your operation.


Dollars and cents for animal ID

Earlier this year, USDA meted out $11.64 million to help 29 state and tribal projects get premises- and animal-ID programs launched. Another round of grants will be made once federal budgets are finalized.

Meanwhile, USDA and state officials are working to evaluate currently funded projects that will eventually become part of the larger National Animal Identification System.

To see which entities received funds and how much they received, go to: