Livestock ID system in testing

By Leslie Radford: CNJ Staff writer

Branding has long identified a farm animal’s owner. Now New Mexico ranching industry leaders are finding ways to track their animals with advances in technology, such as the National Identification System in its early stages within the state.

The Tri-National Animal Health and Identification Consortium recently launched a pilot series to test the new livestock identification system on Quay County 4-H and FFA livestock, which will allow the Department of Agriculture to trace an animal to any registered location it has visited since it was entered into the system.

“This system provides protection for the producer,” said Stan Jones, Curry County extension agent and local calf operation administrator. “This provides record of where the animal has been and can be traced all the way back to the producer should there be problems down the line.”

Jones said the idea is for health officials to be able to track an animal in case it contracts mad-cow disease or some other serious illness that could pose dangers to other animals or people.

Animal ID Specialist Ron Parker said tags may also aid in the origin of bioterrorism attacks on the industry.

An ear tag the size of a bottle cap containing an antennae is stamped into the animal’s ear. The tag is scanned with a wand, a device similar to a small hand-held metal detector used by airport security. The ID number scanned is later logged into a database compiled by the USDA.

While the Tri-National Consortium is actuating the pilot program under state regulations, the ID program will be a national procedure mandated by the USDA by January 2009. The Consortium is asking livestock producers to register their premises, sites that will contain their livestock at any point in time whether it be a ranch, auction or grazing allotment.

Parker helped area producers to get a head start on compiling information for the ID system Thursday morning at an animal ID seminar at the Curry County Extension office.

“This is a health program,” Parker said. “(The tag, once scanned) will provide where the cow has been, who the producer is, and what marketing channels it has been through.”

The program is not limited to cattle, however, as other food-potential animals will also be included in the ID system, Parker said.

Local producers are concerned with the expense that is involved with purchasing the new tags, costing about $2.50 per head, Parker said, and he does not see the government subsidizing the program once it is up and running.

The Tri-National Consortium consists of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, several Indian Nations in the southwest and two states in Mexico.