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Michigan requires electronic ear-tag identification system
Michigan Correspondent

LANSING, Michigan — By this time next year Michigan will be the first state to require that all of its cattle be identified with electronic ear tags.

The Michigan Agriculture Commission recently approved a mandate that will require the ear-tag tracking system by March 1, 2007. After the deadline, any untagged cattle will be turned away from sale barns and slaughterhouses.

The action is expected to help move the state toward TB-free status by providing an accurate method of tracking animal movement. “We need to try to move our Lower Peninsula to a higher TB status,” said Kevin Kirk, special assistant to the animal industry with the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA). “One of the ways we might be able to get recognition from the USDA and other states around us is through the electronic animal identification.

“We need to be able to trace animals in a timely fashion. With the electronic identification we can track them in hours rather than days or weeks.”

All animals moving into or out of the TB-modified-accredited area in Michigan’s upper section of the Lower Peninsula already must be TB tested and tagged with electronic ear tags.

According to Monte Bordner, who is chairman of MDA’s TB Advisory Council and a purebred registered Angus producer near Sturgis, the electronic identification system has been successful in the Northern Michigan TB zone, and he hopes it will help leverage the rest of the state toward TB-free status.

Bordner said he sees the electronic ear tags as a “tremendous opportunity” for the state’s cattle industry that he believes “will open a lot of doors for marketing” and for herd management.

“From an industry perspective, look at what two BSE cows did to us,” he said.

“We lost $2-$3 billion in sales to Japan,” he said. “I can spend $2 per head to identify my cattle with the potential to get that market back. To me it’s a very good investment.”

Bordner said he has used the electronic ear tags on his farm for about four years.

“From a management perspective, the opportunity is phenomenal,” he said. “(Producers) can record all your management records, download them to a palm pilot and get it to your computer.”

Although Bordner hasn’t yet invested the $1,500-$2,000 for a tag reader, palm pilot and computer software, he said he is considering it.

“Those are some big decisions. You want to make sure you have the right technology,” he said.

John Black, who milks about 115 dairy cows on his family’s farm near Howard City in Montcalm County, said he believes the state is on the right track.

“We’ll have a quick way of identifying animals in a national database,” he said. “It’s a benefit for the producers and the consumers in making sure our products are safe. It’s ultimately our responsibility.”

With about 300 head to tag, Black said he plans to get started this spring. “I want to get them ordered early enough so I can gradually get them in,” he said. “As producers I think we have to be vigilant about making sure we’re keeping our animals identified. So if there’s a problem, they can be traced.”

Mecosta County’s Doug Chapin, of J&L Farms near Remus, Mich., put tags in a group of his dairy cattle two years ago on a trial basis. “I like the system,” he said. “As far as the tags go I had no problem.”

Although Chapin said he isn’t set up to take advantage of the management opportunities the ear tags offer he plans to start using them again long before next year’s deadline.

“It sounds like it’s going to become a cost of doing business,” he said of the tags, which cost $2 each.

“That’s another 350-400 tags for a farm our size.”

However, Chapin said he thinks it will be a worthwhile investment.

“I think the whole industry wants to be able to track cattle. It should definitely help us keep our market overseas if we show we can trace and have accurate records of where the meat came from,” Chapin said.

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.

The tags cost $2 each and can be ordered by calling the Lansing Tag Line at 1-866-870-5136 or the Atlanta MDA office at 1-888-565-8626.

“We look at it as a way of protecting the industry in Michigan. I would rather be proactive than responding to a disease outbreak,” Kirk said.

This farm news was published in the March 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.