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Make the Upcoming National ID System Work for You

Posted Feb. 1, 2005

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that a national animal identification system is coming in the near future. The questions are: Do you know exactly what to expect, and do you have a plan for implementing it into your operation?

There are several issues to think about related to a national ID system. Remember that the goal of the system is to allow traceback to farm-of-origin and associated animal contacts within 48 hours of a disease emergency. That is all the government system will do. Production data (weights, vaccine records, etc.) will not be a part of the government system. As for the government system, there is precious little currently written in stone. However, there are several things we are fairly certain of:

  • Producers will register their premises and get a "prem ID" number.
  • Using this prem ID, producers buy RF tags for their herd. The tags they buy will all be unique from any other tag in the world. The retailer will likely report to the national system the prem ID that received the tags.
  • Tags are installed on your animals before they enter the market chain. There will be a few exceptions to this; for instance, the sale barn may install tags for you immediately before your cattle sell. There will be a fee and increased shrink associated with this service.
  • Livestock premises will be identified with a unique number.
  • Animals will be identified with a unique 15-digit number, encoded onto a radio frequency device. These will be eartags for cattle and hogs and probably implants for horses. Device specifications are still being worked out for other species.
  • Animals to be included are: cattle, bison, deer, elk, horses, mules, donkeys, swine, poultry, sheep, goats, fish and camelids (llamas, alpacas). Remember, all animals of these species must comply with these regulations, even those kept as show animals or pets. As a livestock producer, what will you have to do to comply with the proposed regulations? It will go something like this:


In the simplest situation, that is all you will have to do. However, if and when you buy animals and bring them to your place (stockers, bulls, replacement cows, etc.) you will have to report that those animals arrived at your premises.

Small producers may opt to visually read the tag number, write it down on a piece of paper and mail the paper in to the state vet's office. However, many producers will eventually choose to invest in a computer, tag reader and a system to collect and report tag numbers electronically. Electronic reading of tags will greatly increase speed and reduce errors. Today, a hardware/software set up to electronically capture tag numbers starts at about $1,700 and can go up to several thousand dollars, depending on what options you want.

A bigger question than the particulars of the technology is this: How are you going to use this technology to help you better manage your livestock enterprise? If you look at it as a dead cost, that is all it will ever be. However, there are opportunities to use it to get information that will help you make money. The learning curve will be quite steep, but there will also be plenty of people out there to assist you. The Noble Research Institute, Extension, veterinarians and a new breed of "service providers" will all be sources of information and assistance. It will take some time before compliance will be mandatory, but you should be thinking about how to capture value by managing individual animals. Lots of us already are.

"Change is not always linear, nor is it always painless - but change and the evolution of thought is always inevitable. You can either be on the front end of change and be the beneficiary of it, or on the tail end and be the victim of it." Thomas Edison