Auction reactions to ID wildly varied

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 20, 2004
by WLJ
— Cost, time, labor remain primary deterrents.
Japan's announcement that they will open the borders to beef from animals proven to be under 20 months of age could certainly push along efforts to implement a mandatory national animal identification program (NAIP). But, is every segment of the beef industry ready for a mandatory ID program?
One thing is for certain, auction markets are stuck in the middle between what is coming from the ground up from producers and what is being passed down from government and packers. Some auction markets are ready to take the leap into a NAIP and balance what is coming their way, while others choose to take a wait-and-see attitude.
Dwayne Mays, co-owner of Ogallala Livestock Market in Ogallala, NE, is expecting a real problem in their area of NAIP.
"If we had a livestock market that just sold a few head of cattle, and you could run them through the chute one by one, animal identification wouldn't be that much of a problem," said Mays. "But, when we sell such a volume, I can't see how it can be feasible."
Last Thursday, Mays said they ran 5,600 cattle through the ring.
"If you had to run everyone of those down an alley, for the process USDA is talking about, it might have taken us 24 hours to sell them," said Mays.
The other dilemma he foresees is untagged animals arriving at the sale barn. He said that cost would be handed back down to the producers to cover their expenses and Mays doesn't think producers will be willing to incur the additional cost for the tagging service.
"We live in an area that is pretty big country and sizeable operations where a lot of the ranchers don't even tag their cattle. So getting them to do something like that is going to be a different animal anyway," said Mays. "And, we don't understand why we have to do it because we don't have a BSE problem in this country anyway."
Jim Schaben, part owner of Dunlap Livestock Auction in Dunlap, IA, also has some concerns. Schaben is very informed about the ID program since he is also a member of the USAIP working group. At Dunlap they sell fed, feeder and breeding cattle, so any changes in the industry Schaben said affects them all the way around.
"The government seems to be on a fast track for animal ID and I understand that, but they are trying to set down all these standards for traceability and laying out parameters and they haven't given an okay to the funds," said Schaben. "What the government is projecting is just a drop in the bucket."
As a market operator, Schaben also has concerns about revamping their facilities to make an ID system work.
Schaben said it is very important for producers, market operators and dealers to be involved in the process of developing a NAIP.
"It is something that is coming down the pipe and it will have to be addressed," he said. "You have two ways to deal with it. One is to get involved and have something to do with the decision making process as it goes along. Or, you can stand by the sidelines and complain about what comes out of Washington (DC) because there is a lot of work yet to be done."
Schaben also hopes that producers and auction market operators make USDA aware that there is a lot more to talk about than just hardware cost—federal agencies need to be aware of shrink and what happens when each animal is run through a chute.
Another economic impact Schaben thinks is being overlooked is the effect a NAIP will have on the small farmers and ranchers that have 25, 30 or 50 head of cattle.
"These people make up the majority of the cow herds across the country," said Schaben. "I see a big flight of those people out of the industry if this comes along."
Monte Bruck, manager of Fallon Livestock Market in Fallon, NV, is also not sure what to expect with a NAIP. Bruck said he hopes the state of Nevada releases funding for a pilot project and then hopes to learn from a pilot project how to make an ID program feasible.
Dr. Gary Cole, an auction market vet in Nevada, said he met with cattle producers to discuss a pilot project and hopes some ranchers will agree to participate in the pilot project in the form of tagging cattle and following through on those tags to the slaughter facility. But, at this point, Cole said the sale barn may not be responsible to participate because there is not enough money at this time to buy the readers for the tags.
Jack Robertson, manager of Producers Livestock Marketing Association in Oakdale, CA, also hopes to be one of the first auction markets to gain some experience with animal identification through a pilot project. Robertson said auction markets have been left in the dark because the government hasn't officially decided or told them what is going to be expected of them. With a pilot project, Robertson said he hopes the grants will help buy readers and equipment to absorb some of the cost they may have to incur with a NAIP.
Andy Peek, general manager of Shasta Livestock Auction, said a national ID program is going to be a "jumbled mess."
"The way that it is written now, it is all but unworkable," said Peek. "If I have 4, 5 or 6,000 cattle I am selling, to physically run each one through a chute and ID it, I just don't have the labor or the time. It would be time-consuming, labor intensive and cost the consigner."
Peek added that any producer with a number of cattle will avoid coming to the sale yard and having their cattle checked. On the other hand, he does expect it will boost video sales business. "The technology is moving ahead very quickly, and if we can mass scan cattle, then it might be a different deal," said Peek. "But, I think we have to wait for the technology to get there before we implement a mandatory program."
Peek added that national ID is still evolving, but the U.S. beef industry needs to take a very cautious approach to it.
Jim Warren, owner of 101 Livestock Market in Aromas, CA, has a slightly different take on a NAIP his livestock market has had an animal identification program in place for the past four years. This livestock market began an ID program by tying an animal identification number (AIN) to their vaccination program. The AIN would be activated with the vaccine information in the computer. When animals were sold, the records were available to verify vaccines and that the animals had been given shots in accordance with quality assurance standards.
The first year, 101 producers were given the tags to start the program, according to Warren. Then if there was a problem with any of those cattle, Warren said they were able to access an immediate read back of where that animal came from.
This year, 101 Livestock is moving to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and hopes to have every animal that goes through their market identification, not just the ones in the vaccination program. "The tags will cost $3, but hopefully we'll be able to get our customer back 6, 8, 10 or $20 back for that $3 investment," said Warren.
Since this is simply one step up for the Aromas auction market, Warren doesn't anticipate too many problems. He said they plan on reading the RFID tags only once, when cattle come off the scale, which will require some remodeling of their alleys, but shouldn't be much of a problem. Warren said right now their alley way is eight feet wide and they will narrow it to two, three-foot alleys to accommodate the reader capabilities.
"Every market across the country is different, so it is not always going to work the same way," said Warren. "But, we need to have pilot projects across the U.S. to work out the bugs in each region."
Warren added that all the negatives of a NAIP could be listed, but in order to provide the best quality product and protect the auction method of marketing, operators and owners will just have to bite the bullet and do it. "If it takes us a little extra time and costs us a little extra money, so what?" said Warren. "The reality is a national animal identification program is probably where we're going to go, so we just as well better figure out a way to get there as fast and as easy as we can." — Sarah L. Swenson, WLJ Associate Editor