Michigan's mandatory electronic-ID program for cattle went into effect March 1, and the nation's first statewide, comprehensive, electronic, animal-health tracking system for cattle appears to be off to a good start. Officials say early results showed about 95% of cattle arriving at livestock markets with radio-frequency ID (RFID) tags in their left ears.

Kevin Kirk, ID coordinator and special assistant to the state veterinarian, says his informal check of Michigan livestock markets after the first sale day of March indicated more than 95% of animals arrived at Michigan markets sporting the required RFID tag. An interim policy allows markets to tag untagged animals on arrival for a $6/head charge.

Meanwhile, Scott Acker, Michigan's senior regional manager for United Producers Inc. (UPI), says that among the 3,000 head of cattle that moved through UPI's St. Louis, Cass City and Manchester markets in the first six sales of March, fewer than 100 head arrived without the required "840" tag.

"The bulk of producers understand the importance of the program from an animal-health perspective, which is to regain our TB-free status," Acker says.

Individual animal ID isn't new in Michigan. Following the late-1990s discovery of TB in the northeast corner of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, MDA mandated that all cattle moving in the state carry official ID, effective October 2000. The official ID, however, was the USDA-supplied silver metal tag that carried an "MI-34" prefix.

It was in November 2001 that MDA initiated an RFID pilot program in the 11-county infected zone to test its workability for tracking animal movement. The positive results spurred MDA the following year to require RFID in that zone for any animal moving in commerce, and in 2004 for the TB-free Upper Peninsula.

The statewide move to RFID tags, which took effect this month, happened via an MDA rule change in January 2006 that designated an "840" RFID tag as the official form of ID. An "840" tag is part of the National Animal Identification System and requires premises registration in order to acquire it.

Dan Buskirk, Michigan State University Extension beef specialist, says 17,323 livestock premises in Michigan had been registered as of March 5, and 651,578 units of the "840" tags had been sold. He estimates there are 29,011 livestock premises in the state, about 14,400 of them with cattle.

"Our best guess is we have about 1 million head of cattle in Michigan. Animals don't have to be tagged unless they leave the farm, but there are currently enough tags out to cover 65% of the cattle right now," Buskirk says.

The new RFID rule applies to any beef animal moving in commerce within the state. Metal tags are still allowed, however, on cattle being transported for processing for personal consumption, and out-of-state steers or spayed heifers intended for feeding and slaughter and not commingled with Michigan cattle.

Monte Bordner, a seedstock Angus producer from Sturgis who has served as chairman of the state's TB Advisory Committee for five years, sees the mandatory RFID program as critical in regaining market access lost as the result of the TB contained in 11 states in the northeast corner of the Lower Peninsula. The outbreak, whose origin is believed to be TB-infected whitetail deer, have cost the state's producers more than $200 million in lost markets and producer-funded testing costs, he estimates. That's not to mention the $100 million in state and federal funds expended thus far in the eight-year eradication effort.

"What really impacted us the most was the loss of our ability to sell our feeder calves out of state," Buskirk says. The Upper Peninsula, which is separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Mackinac Straits with just a single bridge between them, has never had a TB case, yet those producers lost their traditional feeder-cattle market in Wisconsin when TB was discovered in the Lower Peninsula.

"Not only did TB immediately disrupt markets for those in the Modified Accredited Zone (infected zone), it also hurt producers in the Lower Peninsula counties -- the Modified Accredited Advanced Zone -- who also have never had a TB case and traditionally marketed a lot of cattle into Indiana," Buskirk says.

Bordner, whose Bordner Angus Farms is located just three miles from the Indiana border and 30 miles from Ohio, can attest to Buskirk's appraisal. In the last eight years, Bordner says he's sold only three cattle into Indiana.

"Michigan has never had TB outside that 11-county infected zone, but folks 50 miles south of me think every Michigan herd has TB in it. It's been a struggle," he says. It's hoped the statewide RFID system can garner TB-free status for the 57 counties in the Lower Peninsula that aren't part of the 11-county Modified Accredited Zone. The Upper Peninsula already has interim TB-free status.

-- Joe Roybal