Outbreaks of BSE nor bovine tuberculosis have been enough to scare the U.S. livestock industry into widespread adoption of a national electronic animal identification program.
Wisconsin has actually been one of the success stories, with 85% to 90% of livestock farms registering for a premise identification number. That, of course, was pushed along by state legislation "requiring” premise ID by January 1, 2006.
To date, more than 60,000 premises have been registered. "We have more than 118% of the number of operations the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates are in Wisconsin,” says Robert Fourdraine, Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC) chief operating officer.
"We know we have most of the dairy farms, including more than half of the Amish farms registered,” he says. "Whether we have 60%, 80% or 90% of horse, poultry and beef farms, I can't say.
Nationally, premise ID is much further behind. Frustrated with this apathy, WLIC has decided to lose the stick and try a carrot. It has launched a new national initiative to demonstrate the benefits to an operation's bottom line of premise registration and tagging individual animals with RFID tags.
WLIC has implemented 36 pilot herd programs, using several different livestock species. To date, five pilot dairy herd case studies have been completed, which demonstrate the efficiencies RFID tags can bring to an operation. For more information, go to: http://www.livestockvantage.com/
For example, Chris and Neal Burken, Galesville, Wis., began using the RFID tags this past May in their 250 cow herd. Already, they're seeing benefits. Their DHIA technician uses the RFID wand to scan ear tags to identify cows, and with the data automatically transferred to a hand-held data logger, can quickly punch in milk weights on test day. Use of the technology has sped up DHI testing—with fewer errors.
The Burkens are also using the ID system to speed up herd checks for breeding, treating the correct cows for mastitis and recording breeding information. "As I look to expand my herd, RFID technology will help me manage the cows and their needs better,” says Neal.
Mike Meyer, who milks 550 cows near Loyal, Wis., sees similar benefits. "The equipment helped us drop an hour off the typical time it takes us to do injections,” he says. "There is no losing in this program; we continually learn this technology can do more for us.”
As more producers see the benefits that RFID can bring to their herd management, the faster the technology will be adopted nationally. The side benefit is that the national herd will be better protected should ever occur, since animal health officials will be able to quickly trace back to the source of the outbreak.
National animal ID is really a no-brainer. But seeing is believing. The WLIC pilot projects will show all those doubting Thomases what they've been missing.
Jim Dickrell is editor of Dairy Today. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.