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Animal ID payoff

Agriculture.com Staff 02/14/2007 @ 12:19pm

Like it or not, the national animal identification system is coming. All animals that live on or pass through your farm or ranch will be tracked. The big issue for you is measured in dollars and cents: Will there be a payoff? Will the marketplace pay you extra for animals identified to your farm with birth dates and other critical information?

Some producers, veterinarians, and cattle buyers are trying to answer that question. Here are three examples.

David Barz calls them generic cattle -- no age, no known health status, no known farm of origin. Most calves sold in sale barns are generic.

Barz, a veterinarian, is the owner and operator of Northwest Veterinary Supply in Parkston, South Dakota. He has launched a program called the South Dakota Value-Added Calf Management Program for customers as an alternative to generics.

As Barz and his staff work calves before sales season, they give each an electronic button-style ear tag that stays with them for life. The Allflex tag (shown in the photo above) lets owners record and track the age, source farm, and health procedures performed. Ranchers can then merchandise the identified calves through normal sales channels.

Barz tagged about 10,000 calves in the program in 2005, from more than 100 beef producers. The program will grow in 2006, Barz says, to perhaps 15,000 head.

"Source verification programs are an opportunity for me to offer value-added tools to customers," says Barz. "Any system needs to be low cost, decentralized, and locally controlled. It is a critical partnership among producers, veterinarians, and their animal health suppliers."

Producers who used the ID program got about a $2-per-hundred premium, says Barz. For a 500-pound calf, that's $10. Most producers have the work done anyway, so the only added cost is for the tag, about $2.50, says Barz. "Just having that tag is worth something at the sale barn," Barz says. "It gives the perception that the cattle are well cared for. The veterinarian is the best person to verify the records. I know each herd and its management."

Producers using an ID program such as this one need to merchandise the calves, says Barz. They're worth more, but if they're sold in a parade of generic cattle, they won't get rewarded.

"The easy thing to do is haul them to an auction and see what they bring," says Barz. But, "some producers on our program brought buyers to the ranch to merchandise the cattle. They got bids that were $5 to $7 higher."

Barz says an area auction has plans to help sell the calves at a premium. On sale days, it will designate a time to sell only calves with the verified information and promote it to buyers.

"We hope it helps everybody," says Barz. "Calf producers get more money, and buyers get a known product that's worth more to them."

Like it or not, the national animal identification system is coming. All animals that live on or pass through your farm or ranch will be tracked. The big issue for you is measured in dollars and cents: Will there be a payoff? Will the marketplace pay you extra for animals identified to your farm with birth dates and other critical information?

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