Wyoming ranked 23rd nationally in registered premisesWritten by Christy Hemken
“Animal ID is the key to traceability, and it’s a unique, individual animal ID that would be able to tie a premises to those animals that may come up positive for a disease,” said National Animal Identification System Program Coordinator Terrill Weston at the early-January Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days in Riverton.
Weston, as well as Wyoming Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa, was present in Riverton to explain to producers what’s currently going on with animal identification in Wyoming.
Wyoming is ranked 37th in the U.S. in total number of premises and is ranked 23rd in its percentage of registered premises. “We have 1,662 registered premises out of a total 9,442, which gives us 17.5 percent,” said Weston.
He said there are a few counties slow to participate, especially those along Wyoming’s western edge. “We have 6.67 percent of premises registered in Lincoln County, and 10 percent in Teton County. As we move east we see great percentages, with Fremont County at 18.5 percent premises registered.”
Weston said that one of the biggest questions asked by producers is the difference between a premises number and an animal identification number. “The premises number is the seven-digit alphanumeric number attached only to the premises and the animal identification number has nothing to do with the premises number,” he explains. “The animal ID number is a 15-digit alphanumeric code unique to each animal, and at this point USDA is suggesting each number be retired upon the animal’s death.”
“A lot of times people think the premises number will be on the animal’s tag, but that’s not how it goes,” he clarified. “It’s just a unique 15-digit code assigned to that animal.”
Right now there are four companies supplying USDA-approved radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. “To be a USDA-approved tag it has to have the U.S. shield on it, and the back says ‘unlawful to remove,’” said Weston.
There are three types of RFID tags – passive, active and semi-active. A passive tag requires an outside energy source to activate the RFID technology, while the active tag has its own battery. A semi-active tag has a battery, but it’s only turned on in the presence of a reader.
“The main difference in the three tags is read range,” said Weston. “The active tags have a farther read range, and one supplier has a tag that will easily read 25 miles with straight-line technology. The passive tags have six- to eight-inch readability, and they’re more for chute-side work. The semi-active tags, which are fairly new, are said to have six- to 10-feet readability.”
In addition to the electronic tags, traditional visual tags with a bar code containing the 15-digit animal ID number are also available.
“An official tag can be any tag that has a unique number on it, and there are a lot of programs, like brucellosis, tuberculosis and scrapie, that use tags with an individual number and those are a big part of what we use in the traceback system today,” said Romsa. “Many times we’ve traced back animals on their Bangs tags, and we’ll continue to do so in the future.”
Romsa said the retention of metal tags isn’t all that great, while the little button tags, if they’re put in correctly, have been found to have retention rates well above 90 percent. He said some of the companies with approved tags are proposing their tags could be used as Bangs tags.
“If you’re putting in a Bangs tag anyway, you can put in the animal ID tag and the Bangs tag in one tag,” said Romsa. Currently the combination tag is in a pilot program that is targeting Wyoming, Montana and Idaho for their initial use. “To me it makes perfect sense because you’re going to tag them anyway and people can use their tags for more than one purpose.”
Romsa said the electronic ear tags could also easily be used in management programs to link production, calving records, etc. “They’re another management tool.”
“Because the scrapie program is already up and going in sheep and goats, there’s a big push to just use the scrapie number in the national ID program,” said Romsa. “The jury’s still out on what will work best in the long run, but the scrapie program does work pretty well.”
Last year goats were included in Wyoming’s brand inspection program, and four days after the law went into effect the National Dairy Goat Association held a show in Gillette, which drew thousands of goats into the state.
“It was a good education for me and the guys, but it worked pretty well because the goats had an individual number in one ear and a premises ID in the other, so we used the premises ID as a brand to link to ownership,” said Romsa.
Horses are also included in the discussion with an equine identification program that would include a microchip the size of a grain of rice inserted into a ligament in the neck after local anesthetic. The equine ID comes with a card that includes photos of the horse as well as city, county and premises ID, if there is one. It has also been proposed that a card of this sort be issued on lifetime brand inspections for horses.
“The WLSB’s given the go-ahead on the electronic lifetime inspection cards, but it’s an equipment problem at this stage,” said Romsa. “We have to the technology to issue these, but inspectors don’t have computers and digital cameras yet, but we’re trying to get both of those soon.”
“The databases we’re building are only as good as the information we put in and it’s important to set up information on animals and premises that will work in a traceback,” said Weston. “If we can’t access it quickly it’s of no use.”
“As a guy who’s been through many animal tracebacks, I’ll say brands work better than no brands, by far, but brands are for one purpose - to establish and protect ownership rights,” said Romsa. “You might be able to know all these animals are branded a certain way, but you don’t know which individual animal is sick or which one to trace back.”
He cites a case in Montana where there was an attempt to trace 16 animals that soon turned into a large project because it generated 500 individual traceback efforts, many of which were in Wyoming. “It was nothing we could do rapidly.”
“Brands are great,” said Romsa. “But I can’t be dishonest and say we can trace back with brands alone, because we need better tools so we can do it quickly.”