Make Animal ID Work for You

October 22, 2009 07:00 PM

Electronic identification can help producers improve genetic management and streamline animal record keeping.
For some, animal identification is more than just tagging an animal—it is a way to capture every market opportunity by documenting the animal's source, age, health and/or performance information.

That's the key purpose for beef producer and farmer Terry Quam of Marda Angus Farm near Lodi, Wis. And using radio-frequency identification (RFID), or electronic identification, tags is one way he makes individual documentation more efficient.

Quam's family started using RFID before premise identification became a requirement in Wisconsin. Once that happened, the family worked with the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC), and Quam now serves on the board of directors.

In 2005, the Wisconsin Premises Registration Act required anyone who keeps, houses or commingles livestock to register their premises in that state. The WLIC was developed as a multispecies effort led by Wisconsin's livestock and industry organizations to keep premise information and help producers comply.

Bonus Content:

Links to useful information from Wisconsin's Livestock Advantage Web site.

RFID Calculator from Kansas State University.

Out of that compliance, however, many producers in the state have used premise registration and animal identification as a springboard to better management and expanded market opportunities.

More than a tag. "There are many more uses where that tag is not just a tag but can also be integrated into management software,” says Robert Fourdraine, chief operating officer of the WLIC.

For instance, Quam's RFID tags work with the Angus Information Management Software from the American Angus Association. A handheld scanner reads the tag, which houses the individual animal ID, and is then linked to the computer and software to help with the organization of management and production records.

That information helps Quam in the decision-making process of which bulls and females to sell as breeding stock. In addition, carcass information collected on the animals that are fed at the farm is put into the system to help him make genetic decisions.

Find the right software. Tagging is just the start—you have to find the software or data management program that will store and help analyze the data.

Start by making a list of all the information you want to collect on your animals, Fourdraine says. From there, determine what type of reports you want to create from the information.

In addition, make sure the RFID tags and numbering system you select and the software management program you want are compatible. Check with the software vendor about computer system requirements to operate the program and see what types of handheld readers will work with the software. Tips on setting up systems are at the WLIC's Web site,

Paper trail. The main goal for Quam is to expand market opportunity by having an age and source verified (ASV) program so the beef from his animals qualify to go into overseas markets. He sells beef directly to consumers as half or quarter carcasses. With the slowdown in the economy, some of his customers are not able to purchase beef in that volume right now, so he's looking at opportunities to sell that beef in an ASV program.

That requires an auditable paper trail. "The real value comes from an integrated system where data can be transferred efficiently between sectors of the industry,” says Tim Peart of Micro Beef Technologies. "For example, if a producer can upload his ASV animals into a database before they leave the ranch and a feedyard can access that database when animals arrive at the feedyard, a system can read the tag and verify in seconds that a particular animal is certified ASV from a third-party certification company.”

Labor savings. The tangible benefit from using the technology is labor savings. "If a feedyard has a system that automatically verifies an animal, generates the required documentation for the group of individuals and uploads the data automatically without any input from feedyard personnel, there is a definite labor saving,” Peart says.

There are labor savings at both the seedstock and cow–calf level. Quam's mother and son manage the cowherd the majority of the year, especially during spring and fall, when field work is in full swing.

"I oversee the entire farm, so I don't always see the cows regularly,” Quam says. "With the RFID tags and reader, I can scan the tag and pull up information on that cow.”

Steve Wickingson is another Wisconsin beef producer and farmer who sees improvement in the efficiency and accuracy of his records by utilizing RFID technology and compatible software. As the lone caretaker of his nearly 100-head cowherd, visually identifying cattle for sorting and record keeping was sometimes difficult.

"My cows are hard on tags,” Wickingson says. "RFID tags allow me to positively identify cattle that lose their visual tags and have improved the accuracy of my record-keeping system.”

Since the handheld scanner reads and records the animal's ID number, most human error is removed. As the ID tag is scanned, a chute-side computer brings up the data sheet for that animal so you can enter as you go.

Avoiding an excess of information is essential. "There can be a data overload if you are not careful,” Peart says. "It's easy to throw your hands up when trying to analyze too much data.”

That's why it's important to know what information you want to keep before you search for management software. BT


1. Outline your expectations.
  • For example, do you just want to automate a paper-based system for animal health or breeding records? Or do you also want to capture market information? This will help determine what computer software program you might need.
2. Establish the amount of money you are willing to invest.

3. Determine the type of RFID equipment to purchase.

4. Find out if it will integrate with existing equipment and if it involves facility modifications.

5. Determine the type of RFID tags to purchase.

6. Ask about integration with a third party service provider.

7. Plan training for yourself, employees and family members.

To contact Kim Watson-Potts, e-mail
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