Animal ID Gets Real

Third-Biggest Cattle State Starts Traceabiity Program

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
The Cattle Trace steering committee includes Matt Teagarden, chief executive officer of Kansas Livestock Association; Justin Smith, animal health commissioner; Brandon Depenbusch, vice president of cattle operations for Innovative Livestock Services; Jackie McClaskey, Secretary of Agriculture; Mary Soukup, assistant secretary, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Cassandra Kniebel, project director, Cattle Trace; Brad White, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University; Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer (Photo courtesy Kansas Department of Agriculture)

This year Kansas is home to some 6.3 million cattle and calves, putting it third, after Texas and Nebraska, when it comes to inventory. But ag leadership in the state seems determined to establish a first-place position when it comes to a program for animal traceability.

Announcement of the Cattle Trace pilot project was a big event, bringing out Governor Jeff Colyer, state Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey and leadership from the livestock industry. The project is described as a "public-private" partnership to "develop and test a purpose-built cattle disease traceability infrastructure in Kansas that will guide discussion and development of traceability on a national scale."

Participants in the program to date include the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas State University and the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA). The initial goal is to tag 55,000 calves for the pilot. These animals will be followed from the ranch to the packer. While the primary focus is currently on animals in the state, Mary Soukup, assistant secretary with the KDA, reports there has also been interest from livestock markets, feedyards and cow-calf producers outside of the state who either send a lot of calves to Kansas or do business with operations in the state. The program's leaders are in discussions with these groups.

Cattle Trace is described as a third-party, stand alone entity, with only Cattle Trace personnel having access to data collected on the tagged animals.

"Government, the state animal health official or USDA will only gain access to the data in the event of a disease outbreak," says Soukup. She added the program will collect the minimum data necessary, including individual animal identification numbers, GPS locations and date/time stamps. The data will be collected using ultra-high frequency technology.

"With this technology, once a calf is tagged, the readers and the database do the work. When calves enter a site with a reader (the livestock market, the feeder and the packer) it will capture the data without human interaction," she explained. Part of the pilot will be to help determine best locations for readers, and minimum numbers of readers needed to make the program effective.

"We've seen calves off-loading at a feedyard 10 wide through an alley at a decent clip," said Soukup. "The reader caught all the numbers reliably."

KLA chief executive officer Matt Teagarden, said members of the association amended policy December 2017 to support mandatory cattle disease traceability in the state for all ages of cattle.

Brandon Depenbusch, vice president of cattle operations for Innovative Livestock Services (ILS), says the project is an opportunity "to develop a cattle disease traceability system on our terms. The capabilities of Cattle Trace will enable us to do the right thing for animal health and biosecurity, and for the entire U.S. beef cattle industry." ILS is one of 10 feedyards planning to participate in the project.

Movement data collection will begin this fall, with the project expected to continue for two years. For more information go to www.cattletrace.org

Victoria Myers