There’s nothing unusual or groundbreaking about watching a group of steers move down an alleyway and into a pen at the other end.
So, from the standpoint of looking like a milestone, the first ever live demonstration of the CattleTrace system at work didn’t really stand out. It was just a group of cattle trotting down an alleyway during a Kansas Livestock Association Field Day a Moyer Farms near Emporia on Aug. 15.
The difference on this occasion was that as each animal passed one of four sensors mounted along that alleyway – information was collected and displayed on a video screen in full view of the producers in attendance. The high-frequency eartag in the ear of each animal noted the animal identification number, the GPS coordinates of the reader and the time and date of the reading – information that would be critical to quickly tracing a disease outbreak in the U.S.
Concern about such outbreaks and how to respond quickly to them has been around for a long time, with the rising threat of terrorism around the world and the reality of diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy and foot and mouth disease raising awareness of how critical hours and days become when an outbreak occurs.
Rapid response not only helps keep any outbreak local; it also helps limit the amount of time that markets are disrupted.
While there has been a great deal of agreement that some system of animal identification and traceability is essential, there has been an equal amount of disagreement about the best way to design and implement such a system.
To address the need for an industry-wide system, a collaborative partnership among Kansas State University, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Livestock Association and individual producer stakeholders was organized to develop an infrastructure for an animal disease traceability system, evaluate the efficiencies and capabilities of that infrastructure and determine the value such a system could have through the supply chain.
The Cattle Trace Pilot Project was the result of that collaboration. In August of 2018, Cattle Trace, Inc. was established as a private, not-for-profit corporation to securely maintain and manage the data collected as part of the pilot project. Since then, the project has gained partners in 11 livestock markets in Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Oklahoma, 2 backgrounders, one in Kansas and one in Nebraska, 16 feedyards in Kansas, Washington and Oregon and 3 major packers in Kansas.
At the KLA field day demonstration, CattleTrace program manager, Cassie Kniebel, teamed with Brandon Depenbusch from Innovative Livestock Services and Bryan Rickard of Micro Technologies to show who the data is collected using ultra-high frequency technology.
Depenbusch explained that the high-frequency tags and readers allow the data to be gathered without disrupting the normal pace of animal handling. Low-frequency tags require readers to be much closer to the eartag and slow down the process.
“We heard again and again from our partners that any system would need to operate at the speed of commerce,” Kniebel told the 140 ranchers in attendance for the demonstration. “This demonstration gives you a chance to see how CattleTrace does that.
Readers to collect data including the animal identification number, the GPS location of the reader, and a date and time stamp have been installed at participating livestock markets, feedyards and packing plants as well as at cow-calf ranches, and stocker and backgrounding operations.
The pilot project will move to conducting mock disease tracebacks to test the system and compare it to current traceability capabilities.
The target was to get tags into the ears of 55,000 head of cattle in Kansas. So far, about 40,000 tags have been distributed in Kansas and another 3,000 in Missouri. There are more than 80,000 reads in the database, the majority of which have been made at feedyards, with more than one-third at livestock markets.
Depenbusch said the system uses GPS coordinates for data collection rather than more sensitive information such as a premises identification. The data is managed by a third party and will be made available to authorities only in the wake of a disease outbreak.
In the meantime, participants can take advantage of their own enhanced data to gain new value-added opportunities, including inventory management, health management, operational efficiencies and enhanced advantages in domestic or international trade.