Posted June 19, 2013
Dr. Dave Sjeklocha’s business has made small changes in how it ships dairy bull calves in response to new livestock identification rules.
Some colleagues who work with beef cattle have been “blissfully unaware” of the requirements, he said.
Since March 11, the Department of Agriculture has required identification and health documentation for most livestock that cross state lines, which is having more impact on movement of cattle than on other livestock. The requirements are intended to help trace the origins and movements of animals during a disease outbreak.
Dr. Sjeklocha, immediate past president of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants and operations manager of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, a cattle feeding business, said his company already had been verifying the sources and ages of the calves it bought in Colorado and shipped to Kansas. The most substantial change made by his company entailed using a different type of ear tags.
The federal rules include some exemptions. For example, beef cattle younger than 18 months do not need to be identified unless they will be used in events such as exhibitions or rodeos, and neither do cattle that temporarily cross state lines for grazing.
Dr. John R. Clifford, deputy administrator and chief veterinary officer for the Veterinary Services division of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in May that the identification would provide a good foundation for tracing the origins and movements of animals during a disease outbreak.
“Is it going to be fast enough for certain diseases that can spread very rapidly, within a matter of days? It’s not there yet, but, because of the bookend approach, it will definitely benefit us in our ability to trace animals,” Dr. Clifford said.
That bookend approach involves using unique numbers to show where an animal was first officially identified, such as a birth farm or ranch, and where it was slaughtered. Travel documentation will show movement between states.
Dr. William L. Brown, Kansas animal health commissioner, said three years of preparation and livestock owner education by his state’s animal disease traceability working group helped ensure a smooth transition.
“Kansas is a net importer of cattle, and so that places us at a disease risk,” he said.
State officials in Kansas also have worked to minimize the cost of animal identification, and that has included distributing official USDA identification tags and allowing use of alternatives such as vaccination tags, Dr. Brown said.
Dr. Clifford said APHIS has been promoting use of the official USDA ear tags, helping create tagging sites at livestock markets, working with states on travel documents they could use as alternatives to the USDA’s Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, and ensuring the identification requirements do not impede commerce.
Dr. Jim Logan, Wyoming’s state veterinarian, said his state’s agriculture department also has helped educate livestock owners and veterinarians, who have adapted fairly well. The state’s livestock owners already had to maintain official identification on cows more than 1 year old as well as on any sexually intact cows living in the state’s brucellosis surveillance area near Yellowstone National Park.
Some livestock market employees have had to spend more time to make sure cattle are adequately identified, but the burden of recording identification numbers on travel documents could be reduced through use of electronic tracking and health certification, Dr. Logan said.
“Maybe the biggest complication is that people are reading more into things than what is really there,” he said. “I think it’s really a fairly simple rule if people don’t make more of it than what it is.”
Dr. Tony Forshey, Ohio’s state veterinarian, said he does not know of a state veterinarian who opposes the regulations. While he expects those who raise livestock ultimately will pay the added costs of identification, he expects it will help in an emergency.
“Everybody understands it, and everybody agrees with it—that it needs to happen—but nobody wants the expense and labor of doing it,” he said. “It’s just one of those changes that have come about as a result of disease outbreaks.”
Ohio has spent millions of dollars on investigations following disease outbreaks, Dr. Forshey said. When the time taken for investigations and disease testing rise, so do the cost and risk that the disease will spread further, he said.
Dr. Sjeklocha expects some continued apprehension among farmers and ranchers over how deeply the federal government wants to become involved in their businesses.
“But I think, in the long run, we will benefit from animal disease traceability,” he said.