Most of the beef production and marketing alliances springing up around the country are predicated on some kind of animal identification (ID) system.

Ken Conway, Hays, KS, says the radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology he's experienced is working very well for collecting and transferring cattle performance data. He's owner and president of GeneNet, an integrated marketing alliance that's traded over 250,000 head of cattle — many “equipped” with RFID. He's presently working with more than 1,000 cow-calf producers, 100 feedlots and a large number of seedstock producers throughout the U.S.

Wave Of The Future

“For our purposes, the RFID systems out there are working as well as conventional panel eartags for data collection,” says Conway. “Things like retention rates, readers and software systems are good enough to make this technology look like it's the wave of the future in livestock agriculture.”

He knows that animal health issues like the one case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) discovered in Canada last spring are accelerating the move toward individual ID. But, Conway's business interests lie more in traceback for animal management than for health security.

“There's no question that with all the health issues like BSE and foot-and-mouth disease around, that animal ID is going to be a way of life,” he says. “It's going to be dictated to us that we follow our cattle throughout the production chain. In the end, this will be a good thing for us all.”

Conway emphasizes though that source verification — at least from an animal performance standpoint — doesn't always need to involve individual ID.

“You certainly don't have to identify your cattle individually in order to participate in GeneNet,” he says. “We can use group data to provide some valuable management information.”

“The larger range-calving ranching operations aren't going to find it easy to individually ID calves from birth,” Conway speculates. The likely scenario, he thinks, might be that ID tags would be applied at the ranch during branding.

“Obviously, the closer to birth you can get the tag on the calf, the better,” Conway says.

For many producers, the location of first sale, like an auction barn or feedyard, might be the first point permanent ID is applied. He thinks the more progressive auction yards and feedyards will begin gearing up to facilitate RFID systems.

“I'm assuming that automatic ID readers will be installed in auction markets,” he says. “I'm not sure who's going to pick up the tab for all this. Though. I guess ultimately it will be handed back to the producer, as most everyone else in the system is a margin operator.”