Missouri auction ahead of identification curve; more sales planned

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 20, 2004
by WLJ
— RFID program adds value to calves.
While a large portion of cattle industry participants have been waiting on a nationwide program before starting to implement an individual animal identification system, one central Plains livestock auction took a more proactive approach and is ahead of the livestock ID curve.
This past June, Joplin Regional Stockyards, Joplin, MO, held a special late week feeder calf auction when it offered up more than 6,000 head of calves and yearlings that were all fitted with radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags.
In addition to tagging the animals with RFID, the auction barn scanned those IDs three times before the animals left their facility. Auction barn officials said that allowed the animals to be logged into a database, which can be used to track their progress through the production chain and to trace back their history in the event a food safety or animal health issue arises.
The animals' IDs were scanned once after being unloaded, once when they were sold and once when they were loaded out from the auction barn.
According to Steve Owens, co-owner of Joplin Regional Stockyards, the company wanted to show producers that ID-taging isn't as intimidating as it appears, and that the amount of additional time, effort and money isn't that significant, particularly when the financial benefits are noticed.
"We were very happy with the response to last June's sale," said Harmon. "There is definitely a need out there for this kind of program to already be in place, and we feel we are meeting that need and helping producers who want to be prepared when a national (ID) program is fully in place."
One of the arguments against ID is the amount of additional expense to tag the animals with a special device and collect the data. Owens indicated, that on their end, the expense wasn't that great, and that the cost to producers wasn't noticed too much because of the premiums those identified cattle brought, compared to prices paid earlier in the week.
"We were seeing cattle bringing $6-8 more during the special (RFID) Thursday sale, than similar cattle brought during our normal Monday sale," said Owens. "While quality of calves was very good, a lot of that premium had to do with the extra value we were adding to those cattle by equipping them with technology that will help them be tracked through the farm, feedlot and/or packing house."
Not only are the electronic IDs able to help trace back the history of cattle, including ownership and origin, but they are also helpful in allowing producers collect information about their livestock, which could be beneficial in changing their breeding or management program to improve profitability in the future.
"This is technology all producers need to be associated with, whether or not they decide to utilize it right now or not," Owens said. "We are facilitating the familiarity process and offering support in a situation that isn't easy to cope with."
The Joplin auction barn has scheduled several more RFID feeder cattle sales, with 12-14 already planned between late October and March of next year.
"We have been very happy with the result of our last value-added RFID sale, and look forward to similar results, and better, down the road," Owens said. "Things are looking to evolve even further, specifically were are looking at developing an even more comprehensive database for producers to access specific animal information on.
"We do not have the program perfected, but we are working on improving the maintenance of individual animal data, as well as setting ourselves up as the first line of defense when it comes to attacking a potential animal health problem."
Owens indicated that other auction facilities across the country have inquired about the Joplin's facility program, and that they are looking into possibly including animals sold at other facilities in their original database.
"This is for the betterment of the entire industry, and that is something we can benefit from both directly and indirectly," Owens said. "A mandatory ID program is going to happen sometime, and it's better to be prepared now than being unprepared when the final program is finally put into place."
In addition to the nationwide traceback situation, Owens said including RFID into its "value-added" cattle was simply a way to further advance the premiums to producers who are taking the extra time and effort to differentiate their cattle from others.
"There are already programs in place that utilize individual animal ID, particularly when it comes to niche beef programs, and those programs pay producers for raising their cattle under a strict health management system. ID differentiates those cattle further, and gives potential buyers an idea about which cattle deserve that extra premium," Owens said. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor