Electronic ear tags track feeder cattle

Tennessee scores a first Tennessee has scored a first by marketing the first feeder cattle east of the Mississippi river with identifying chips in their ear tags.

These chips, which can be electronically read, identify the cattle wherever they go. The cattle were marketed through the Smoky Mountain Feeder Calf Association's Southeast Pride Sale held at the East Tennessee Livestock Center at Sweetwater.

The effort was spearheaded by Mark and Jennifer Houston, owners and managers of the east Livestock Center. The Houstons said they heard year after year that Tennessee feeder cattle were just not what buyers needed.

So they decided to implement a feeder-cattle health-management program that would suit any buyer.

Building on the already successful Southeast Pride program, their Pride Plus program added some additional immunizations and required all immunizations to be of the same brand.

The Electronic Identification (EID) tags in each calf's ear carry identifying numbers. The health-management program for each calf is either transmitted electronically or sent out with the cattle on a computer disk.

Mark Houston indicated that this should help the new owner better manage the newly purchased cattle.

In the future, an additional objective is to get feedlot and carcass performance data back to the producer so that management changes can be made to produce an even better project.

Was it worthwhile? Did all the sale effort prove worthwhile? "It looks like the cattle at Sweetwater sold for $1.75 to $11.50 per hundredweight higher than comparable groups of cattle sold in graded sales across the state that same day," said Emmit Rawls, a livestock economist with the Agricultural Extension Service at the University of Tennessee.

The bigger premiums were on the larger groups of 47,000 to 50,000 pounds. Most cattle had been weaned and started on a grower ration for 30 days. Two truckloads of the cattle were from six producers using similar Angus genetics from a bull-leasing program in the area.

Bob Sliger, Extension leader in Monroe County, indicated that the sires of these calves all had strong growth and carcass traits.

Producers of all the calves at the Sweetwater sale had been through training to become Beef Quality Assurance-certified. that meant the producers received training on documentation of health management practices and proper procedures for performing those practices.

"Interestingly, a couple of hours after the sale at Sweetwater, two pens of cattle were offered for sale with EID tags at the Lower Middle Tennessee Cattle Association video board sale," Rawls said.

Giles, White counties The sale was conducted by Tennessee Livestock Producers, Inc., at Columbia. Those cattle were from Giles and White counties.

"The EID technology is here and has been used at the feedlot level to track cattle all the way through processing to the beef packer," Rawls said. "It does require several entities' paying close attention to the cattle, and the owners must have the desire to track their performance."

Once the cattle leave Tennessee, he said, it's quite possible that four or more parties may own the cattle before they're finally converted into beef.

"While identification of beef cattle is now voluntary," Rawls said, "it's expected to become mandatory in the future to facilitate the tracking of any food-safety problems that could develop from beef production. Identification of swine to be processed into pork has been mandatory for many years."

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