Cattle industry urges against mandatory ID
Cattle producers, veterinarians, sale barn operators and others involved in the cattle industry encouraged the federal government not to implement any kind of mandatory individual identification for feeder cattle 18 months of age and younger.
That was the message that Wayne Gerbig, Amidon, N.D., rancher heard at the Billings, Mont., U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service hearing May 24. The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association board member said that the two most important and most common messages shared during the public hearing were:
1 – USDA was encouraged to not pursue a mandatory identification program for breeding cattle or feeder cattle
2 – hot branding and the use of brand inspection and shippers permits are still viable forms of identification
The USDA APHIS hosted listening sessions in Oklahoma, Maryland, Tennessee, Minnesota, Denver, California and Billings to obtain public comment on the current Animal Disease Traceability system in order to determine what changes might be needed in the future.
Two upcoming meetings were recently added to the original lineup:
Omaha, Neb., July 18: Embassy Suites Omaha Downtown; and Fort Worth, Texas, July 20, Dallas/Fort Worth Marriott Hotel & Golf Club at Champions Circle. Producers are encouraged to attend those meetings to share their experiences and thoughts regarding a national animal identification program.
In 2012, USDA lowered the age at which sexually intact breeding cattle moving interstate required individual identification — from 24 months to 18 months of age. In this, “Phase two” USDA indicated it was interested in tracking all cattle that move interstate, including feeder cattle.
The final USDA hearing, in Billings, included an industry panel with a sale barn operator, a purebred operator, a sale barn vet, and Race King, a Dillon, Mont., rancher who runs a yearling outfit.
King said his family, who operates within a designated surveillance area (DSA) in southwest Montana, began using individual electronic identification for their cattle to comply with state requirements. The DSAs exist to attempt to track breeding cattle from the areas of Montana most affected by brucellosis from wildlife — both elk and buffalo.
The Montana Stockgrowers member said the state compensates his ranch for some of the testing costs required within the DSA, and for some of the tagging costs as well. But the King ranch has “embraced” the electronic identification program and now finds it useful for their own herd recordkeeping.
“We have made it work in our operation. We’ve adopted several ways of using the technology to make us better managers and marketers. We are now purchasing tags on our own,” he said, and added that his heifers don’t get a metal bangs tag when they are vaccinated and tattooed — the electronic identification tag takes the place of the bangs tag.
“Our premise is registered so those tag numbers are associated with our ranch.”
The Kings are involved in programs that require individual traceback identification, and that often offer premiums, but these programs are about more than just a button in the ear, he said.
“It’s not just tagging,” he said, adding that different programs call for different management strategies.
All of the benefits his ranch has experienced aside, King said he does not believe a mandatory tagging protocol for America’s feeder cattle is a good idea, and his family still utilizes hot branding and the state’s brand inspection program.
“As important as it is to do our part, we don’t think they need to mandate it for all feeder cattle. We need to step back and see what’s working — a lot of things are working. I think the view of the group, especially producers, is that there is enough opportunity with voluntary identification to meet the export demand. I felt like that was definitely the majority opinion of the producers at the meeting.”
Montana Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President Errol Rice said his group doesn’t support a mandatory tagging requirement but would like to see USDA work in tandem with operators who are already utilizing traceback identification, or those who are interested in it, to develop some standardized government traceback protocols.
“If we do get hit with another disease outbreak, that way we’ve got a critical mass of feeder cattle that are under identification that could be made available for export markets,” Rice said. His group hopes this system would keep other countries from banning U.S. beef in the case of future disease outbreaks.
Gerbig said that he learned from other presenters that the electronic button tags have improved substantially. He said Joe Goggins, owner of the two Billings, Mont., livestock auction barns and Vermilion, S.D., Angus, testified that the electronic tags — in use in his purebred operation — are much less likely to fall out than earlier versions.
Goggins also explained that electronic identification would severely impede commerce during the fall run at his salebarn because, contrary to industry hopes that a truckload or a ring full of cattle could just be “swiped,” in reality each animal has to be run down a chute or individually caught in a head catch in order for the tags to be read.
There is still a good market for “source verified” cattle, although premiums are smaller than when they were newer, Gerbig said he learned in the meeting, due to more producers getting involved. He said that producers can’t just buy an electronic tag — which average around $2.50 for the basic kind — and expect a premium. He believes producers will need to get involved in a program and follow expected protocol throughout the year in order to qualify for a premium.
South Dakota Stockgrowers Association President Bill Kluck from Mud Butte, S.D., said he hopes USDA doesn’t decide to saddle the entire industry with added tracking requirements because he believes brand inspection and other programs are working — especially for those operating within the brand area. Even with “glitches,” brand inspection and bangs vaccination tend to be successful in tracing back livestock. “I have no argument that we need a traceback program. But they are trying to correct a problem in the east that really doesn’t exist out here where we have brand inspection and nearly all of us bangs vaccinate our heifers.”
Kluck said he’s also concerned about the “bookend” type of identification suggested by USDA where the producer and the processor are identified. “It will subject the producer to prove himself innocent,” in the case of a disease issue.
“Most western ranchers sell load lots. The brand will serve us adequately until they are commingled. I don’t believe I should have to be responsible for tags not working, improper application, or other problems that might occur after they leave my place. Most health problems start with the co-mingling of cattle and that’s when the cattle are out of my control.” The breeding herd is a different story, Kluck said, and bangs tattoos and tags along with brand inspection should continue to suffice for those animals. ❖