October 2007
From the State Vet's Office

A Rosie by Any Other Name

by Dr. Tony Frazier

I recently attended the National Animal ID Expo in Kansas City. The meeting was sponsored by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture. The organization is made up of producer groups, agricultural educators, animal agriculture product manufacturers, government animal health officials and individual producers. The meeting featured presentations by each of these represented segments regarding how animal ID was impacting and being used in various applications. Many of the applications were aimed toward the use of animal identification in marketing animals and animal products.

One of the most interesting speakers was a dairyman from England who discussed his country’s animal identification or passport system. With all of the technology we have available today, they use a paper passport system. Each animal has an individual passport that follows the movement of the animal. It would seem that system would not be very effective, and it does have its weaknesses when rapid tracing is needed. However, their passport system has played a large role in the near eradication of BSE, also known as Mad Cow Disease. During the peak years of the disease, there were thousands of cases of BSE each year in England. Last year, there were only three cases. Their passport system allowed them to find birth and feed cohorts of positive BSE cows and remove them from commerce. That is a pretty impressive use of animal ID. The dairyman’s take home message was very simple, "It is a lot of trouble to keep up with. We did not like it when it began, but don’t try to take it away from us now."

Another application was New York’s Department of Agriculture using active tags to inventory captive deer and elk herds. An active tag is one that transmits a signal that allows a reader to capture information from a distance. One of the requirements of the New York Chronic Wasting Disease Monitoring Plan is to inventory the individual deer or elk in each herd yearly. The other way to do a herd inventory is by catching each animal and reading each ID tag. By using active tags, the animals do not have to be run through a chute or tranquilized. If you have ever tried to restrain a deer, you can understand the huge advantage of using active tags.

There were industry representatives who discussed the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) to market animals. There are various source and age verification programs that are very marketable. Because we have had BSE in this country, several countries are interested in our ability to trace animals back to their farm of origin for the purpose of finding birth and feed cohorts. Some of these types of programs are beginning to gain popularity in Alabama with some of the larger producers who are able to market large groups of animals. Somewhere along the way these programs need to move toward the inclusion of the small producer.

As State Veterinarian, my interest in animal identification is for animal health purposes. When we discontinued testing cattle for brucellosis in stockyards, we, for the most part, lost our official identification system. Over the past few years, government and industry have been working toward a system that would allow tracing of animals that have been exposed to disease, and that is to be accomplished in 48 hours. I, along with many others, am concerned that progress is coming along too slowly. I am also concerned about the strictly voluntary direction the National Animal Identification System has taken. Hopefully it will someday all come together before we really need it. In the meantime, we continue to work on premises registration in Alabama, which, if we do a good job with it, will be extremely helpful to us in this state.

When I was in practice, I had a client who had two cows—Rosie and Bess. That was the only identification my client needed. And I believe Rosie and Bess knew their names. It served its purpose as an identification system. And wasn’t it an English fellow named William Shakespeare who once said, "….a Rosie by any other name…"

Today animal identification and its uses are pretty much limited only by the imagination. If you have questions about premises registration or other related issues, give us a call. If we don’t know the answer, we can at least point you in the right direction.