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Animal ID Research

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Looks to me like there are still a lot of bugs to work out- to even get a 90% accuracy....

MSU University News
Montana researchers find answers to animal ID questions
September 15, 2005 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Montana researchers have answered some of the questions raised by the proposed creation of a national livestock identification program, said John Paterson, director of the Montana Beef Network and Montana State University Extension beef specialist.

They've found, for example, that it's possible to scan electronic ear tags while animals are moving and that handheld wand-scanners work better than other scanners. They have found that metal fences can interfere with scanners. They tracked cattle, with 90 percent accuracy, from a ranch in one state to a pasture in another state to a feedlot in a third.

Researchers with the Montana Beef Network conducted three studies this year that produced those results, Paterson said. The network, based at MSU, works in close partnership with the Montana Department of Livestock and the Montana Stockgrowers Association. One study tracked calves from a Montana ranch through a Montana auction market. Another tracked cattle from a Montana ranch to wheat pastures in eastern Oklahoma, through an auction market in Oklahoma and finally to a feedlot in Nebraska. The third study, which is in progress, has tracked calves from Montana to Idaho and back to Montana. It will next follow the calves to a feedlot in Kansas.

The first study, which involves the auction market in Ramsey, involved 200 calves born in Montana, said Andy Kellom, field representative for the Montana Beef Network. The researchers divided the calves into four groups, then tagged three groups at the owner's ranch and one at the Montana Livestock Company in Ramsey. Each tag contained a unique 15-digit number that is often called an RFID tag or electronic tag. It stays with the animal until it is harvested.

"Our hypothesis was that this scenario would be one of the hardest places to follow through," Kellom said, referring to the auction market where hundreds of calves are sold through the auction ring.

For this study, two types of scanners were used, Kellom said. One was a portable handheld wand they waved past the calves' ear tags. The other was more stationary and was built into a portable alley that looked like a security checkpoint at an airport. As the calves walked through it, the scanner automatically read their ear tags. Information from both scanners was transferred into a computer.

The researchers found that metal fences at the auction market interfered with the stationary alley scanners, Kellom said. As a result, this scanner read only 60 percent of the ear tags. The handheld portable wands, on the other hand, read every ear tag, but researchers had to slow down the calves as they came down the alley.

"We found out it wasn't as easy as we thought," Kellom said, adding that doorway scanners might work better if they were part of a permanent structure at the auction house rather than a portable device.

In the second study, Ryan Clark tracked 500 steers from Melvillle, Mont., to a wheat pasture in Cherokee, Okla., to a feedlot in Ainsworth, Neb. Clark, another field representative with the Montana Beef Network, scanned the steers with a wand when they got off the truck in Oklahoma, and the wand worked every time. The calves were then mixed with other cattle in a pasture. Six months later, they were taken to a feedlot next to an Oklahoma auction market and scanned with a wand. This time, the wand read 96 percent of the ear tags.

From there, approximately 450 steers went to a Nebraska feedlot where they are now, Clark said. They will be scanned in mid-September before being harvested in a packing plant. The other 50 steers were sold and split up and data were lost.

"It's possible to track them from stop to stop to stop, but there will be issues like lost tags, tags that won't scan and calves sold through the auction market and split up that will be lost in the system," Clark said.

In the third project, Kellom traced calves that were born in Idaho, shipped to Montana, returned to Idaho and then shipped to a feedlot and packing plant in the Midwest. The calves were tagged in Montana and scanned when they returned to Idaho. Accuracy this time was 99 percent for the wands and 83 percent for the portable alley scanners. The alley scanners performed better in this study because the corrals were wooden instead of metal, Kellom said.

He noted that the researchers used multiple scanners as the calves came off the truck, so the radio frequencies interfered with each other. One solution might be scanners built into plastic panels, Kellom said. Attached to wooden fences, the panels could read ear tags as the calves walked by them.

Paterson said the Montana Beef Network has other projects that are either under way or planned. One longer-term project will compare tags manufactured by three different companies to determine retention rates and readability after several years. This study will involve approximately 3,000 cows.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or [email protected]


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