Exclusive insight into animal ID

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Recently, Dairy Herd Management reported on the release of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service “Benefit-Cost Analysis of the National Animal Identification System.”

Overall the APHIS report is a good study, says Robert Fourdraine, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium. “However, they had to limit the various options of how a system can be implemented or the document would have been 4,000-plus pages. Therefore, the authors selected the more expensive alternative so we could see what the cost would be on the high side of the equation.” 

There are various programs already available in the dairy industry that, with some small changes, can be compatible with the National Animal Identification System and cut down on the cost cited in the study and still provide a high level of traceability, he adds.

Fourdraine reminds dairy producers to keep the following points in mind:

  • In the introduction to the study, it is noted that the cost is annualized over a 10-year period. Therefore, the start-up cost for the first year of implementation would be higher than the subsequent, on-going expenses.
  • The assumption of the study (on the cattle side) was that only radio-frequency ID (RFID) ear tags would be used and readers would be needed to read the tags. Tag prices have come down since the study was done, and so have the prices for tag applicators. 
  • Although the study assumes producers would purchase readers, or pay another party for using reader services. However, there are other options that work just as well, without the producer needing a reader, Fourdraine says. For example, cross-referencing the animal-identification number (AIN) with a herd-management number printed on the RFID tag allows the producer to work with the herd-management number without needing to also use the 15-digit AIN number.
  • The dairy cow analysis in the study was conducted similar to the beef cattle analysis; therefore, in most cases, over-estimating the cost to the average dairy producer. In the dairy industry, the DHIA and breed registries have established a recording system that already encompasses more than 50 percent of the dairy cattle in the U.S. With DHIA involvement in more than 50 percent of the dairy cattle, there would not be a need for readers on the farm. Likewise, this also would cover some of the cost associated collecting movement data. “As we have found out through our WLIC-DHIA project, DHIA technicians already can read the tags and report movement as routine herd testing, thus cutting down on the cost to producers,” Fourdraine says.
  • Most dairy producers already use some form of visible ID. Therefore, the cost of tag application mentioned in the study is a duplication of something that’s already included in a dairy operation’s management. 
  • There are many benefits to using the RFID AIN ear tag on a dairy, beyond the use in a national animal identification scheme. Parlor, sort gates, electronic herd management recording systems, scales and now feeding systems for calves can all work with the RFID AIN ear tags currently available. In addition to DHIA, genetic programs and breed registries all can work with this one number.
  • Widespread use of an AIN ear tag would make implementation of country of origin labeling much easier. Since the country of origin is visible on the animal itself, the need for paperwork to be maintained by the producers and livestock industry is eliminated. These savings were not included in the analysis.

Three years ago, the cattle species group laid out several ways to reduce the costs of cattle industry implementation, explains Fourdraine. Some specific measures that can be taken to reduce the overall implementation costs of NAIS include:

  • Focus efforts for animal ID on those animals at greatest risk. For example: ID breeding cattle and cattle moving into commerce at places of co-mingling.
  • Focus on movements of greatest concern and risks of spreading disease (interstate movement or co-mingling at a livestock markets or shows).
  • Record animal movement by the receiver, thus eliminating the need for the person selling the animal to report any information.
  • Since start-up cost is the highest, it was proposed that USDA provide cost-sharing of ID devices to producers and subsidize the installation of data recording infra-structure at livestock markets and processing facilities to offset these initial implementation expenses.


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