Dave Maples, Lexington, KY, says cattle identification (ID) has become the cattle industry's predominant production issue.

“Everywhere you go in this business — and with everyone you talk to — ID dominates the discussions,” says Maples, executive vice president of the Kentucky Catlemen's Association. “It's the hottest topic around — our phone has been ringing off the hook.”

The questions swirling around livestock ID have accelerated since earlier this fall when the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) threw its hat in the ring with the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (see sidebar).

The plan's goal is to develop a compulsory nationwide standardized program capable of identifying all premises and animals that had direct contact with a foreign animal disease within 48 hours of its discovery.

40,000+ “Premises”

As the largest cattle-producing state east of the Mississippi River, Kentucky is home to more than 1.1 million beef cows and ranks 5th nationally in total number of farms — with about 40,000 beef producers.

“This fact in itself makes ID a big, contentious issue,” says Maples. “We have so many small producers and so many ‘premises’ with multiple family members. All these folks wonder how the ID plan will affect them — and how they'll comply.”

One answer, Maples believes, will be in setting up “tagging sites” at auction markets, stockyards and collection points used by order buyers. The idea is that animals not already identified can be tagged at the first point of movement off the premise of origin.

In fact, he's working through a federal grant to the Kentucky Beef Network (KBN) to help set up facilities to handle radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

“We want to equip those places with computers and RFID readers — and train people in their use,” says Maples.

In Kentucky, the focus of ID appears to be more on cattle marketing than necessarily on animal disease traceback.

John Stevenson, KBN director, says ID can be used as a vehicle to identify and add value to the superior cattle that are the product of the KBN program.

“Our producers have put a lot of work into beef quality assurance (BQA),” he says. “RFID technology gives us a cost-effective means to track those cattle through the marketing chain.”

Five-State Beef Initiative

Kentucky is also a member of the Five-State Beef Initiative (FSBI), a project that's part of a large USDA grant that also includes Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Producer requirements for participation in this project include BQA certification. Other components are water quality plans, education in genetics and cattle marketing.

Data management will be included in FSBI training meetings this year. Producers will be asked to provide records on their calves including sire and dam information.

Benefits of FSBI include 50% cost sharing on carcass data collection for two years, and producers will be provided feedlot performance and carcass data on their calves.

“These cattle were identified with electronic ear tags and will be tracked through processing,” adds Stevenson. “Things like this initiative just add to the interest we're seeing in RFID technology.”