|By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan cattle producers are moving closer to meeting the state’s March 1, 2007, deadline to implement a statewide electronic animal identification system.
The Michigan Agriculture Commission earlier this year approved a mandate that will require the radio frequency identification (RFID) tags by next spring. After the deadline any untagged cattle will be turned away from sale barns and slaughterhouses.
Seventeen producers attended a meeting in St. Johns last week to learn about the requirement. It was one of 11 informational meetings being conducted throughout Michigan this month by the Michigan Holstein Assoc. and the Michigan State University Extension.
Kevin Kirk, special assistant to the animal industry with the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA), discussed the reasons for the mandate, showed a sample of the tags and where they should be placed in an animal’s ear and answered questions from producers.
“Most importantly is animal tracking,” Kirk told the farmers. “The department of agriculture’s No. 1 issue is food safety.
“If it’s in the computer we can track an animal to its origin in 15 minutes. The old way would take two weeks to months.”
Kirk said a driving force is Michigan’s bovine tuberculosis (TB) status. The action is expected to help move the state toward TB-free status by providing an accurate method of tracking animal movement.
Currently all animals moving into or out of the TB modified accredited area in Michigan’s upper portion of the Lower Peninsula already must be TB tested and tagged with electronic ear tags.
Since its TB outbreak a few years ago, industry officials have estimated that Michigan cattle producers have lost $2-$3 billion in annual sales to Japan.
“Any way we can get back into that Japanese market would be kind of exciting,” Kirk said.
“Japan and other overseas markets are going to demand traceability,” said Kevin Gould, MSU Ionia County Extension Livestock educator. “If Michigan is on the forefront of that technology our producers will hopefully realize the benefits.
“Consumers are really the ones who are going to dictate this.”
Kirk said electronic tag readers have been installed in 11 of the state’s 14 cattle auction sites and the state has been tracking cattle movement data collected from those sites. The markets will not be responsible for tagging animals upon arrival.
“The markets have made it clear that they don’t want to be the tagging agency in the state,” Kirk said. “Always keep some tags in the glove box (or your vehicle). You’ll eventually show up some place without a tag.”
Penalties for non-compliance could amount to citations with fines up to $1,000. “We don’t want to have to send anybody home from market,” Kirk said.
The RFID tag is about the size of a quarter and is supposed to be put in the center of an animal’s left ear at the base of its head. Kirk said this location is suggested because the tag is less likely to be lost or to get infected.
He told the group that they should be tagging calves now in preparation for next spring.
“They’re a whole lot easier to tag when they’re small,” he said. “But, an animal does not have to be tagged until it leaves the farm.”
He also cautioned producers not to share tags due to the potential for disease issues being traced back to the farm number that appears on the tag.
“Don’t give any (tags) to your neighbor, nor do you want to borrow any,” Kirk said. “At this point I wouldn’t buy any cattle that were untagged.”
Meeting attendee Jim Slavik of Ashley milks about 100 Holstein cows and has a 20-head beef herd. He has been exposed to the electronic ear tags because his children show beef steers at the Michigan State Fair in Detroit.
“It’s where the country is coming to,” he said. “We need to be able to track animals a lot quicker.
“We can’t afford to lose these markets over (disease) scares.”
Ovid-area cow-calf operator Larry Gruesbeck went to the meeting to learn the basic information about the RFID requirement. “I don’t know any of the information,” he said.
Nancy Berger works for a local farm store, and she and her husband, Kenneth, also operate a cow-calf herd on their Owosso-area farm.
“I needed some basic information,” Nancy said. “I hear all kinds of weird stories and questions at the store.”
She is in favor of a more accurate statewide tracking system. “It’s too easy to mess up the food supply,” she said.
The tags cost $2 each and can be ordered by calling the Lansing Tag Line at 1-866-870-5136, the Atlanta MDA office at 1-888-565-8626.
Kirk said the MDA will issue farmers a new TB premises ID when they call to order tags. Each tag in Michigan will have a prefix of 840, which has been assigned to Michigan by the USDA.
This farm news was published in the August 23, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.