The Union Ganadera Regional de Chihuahua (UGRCH), or the Chihuahua Cattlemen's Association, recently embarked on an aggressive, Internet-based cattle ID system designed to provide bovine tuberculosis (TB) traceability for both U.S. and Mexican animal health officials.

The system uses animal ID functions already in place in Mexico but provides Internet-based filters and checks that allow officials a fail-safe system to track and trace the movement of cattle within the state of Chihuahua, as well as when they cross the border into the U.S., says Valentin Achaval, UGRCH technical secretary.

Here's a simplified look at how it works: When a cattleman in Chihuahua sells cattle, he must obtain an individually numbered green ear tag. “Chihuahua is the only state that uses the green tag,” Achaval says. “A yellow one identifies Sonora. So every state that exports has a different color.”

To buy a green ID tag, the rancher must present his own personal ID card issued by the Mexican government, plus his brand card, which all Mexican ranchers must obtain when they register their brand. Using a secure Internet system, the tag numbers are assigned to the purchasing rancher. When a rancher applies for an export permit, he is issued a second blue tag which must correspond with the green tag.

In the process, there are several steps where tagged animals must be entered and tracked by the system. When tagged animals show up at one of the border ports for export, the tag number is checked with the system as a final check to ensure everything is in order. Then, should the animal later test positive for TB, it can be traced to its herd of origin.

While Chihuahua has been using the green tags to identify cattle for about five years, the Internet tracking system is brand new. It was reviewed by USDA in mid-October, and UGRCH officials made the suggested changes. The system was rolled out in late October as a pilot program. Once the system proves itself in Chihuahua, it will likely be expanded to other states, Achaval says.

More information is available at the Spanish-language UGRCH website, www.ugrch.org.