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January 18, 2006
Livingston Co. takes part in animal identification program

Every year, Marion Shier sees hundreds of hogs, cattle and sheep arrive on the Livingston County Fairgrounds from dozens of farms. They stay for a few days, then return home or exhibit at other shows across the Midwest.

``Biosecurity becomes an issue for me just going from farm to farm to tag animals which are going to be exhibited,’’ said Shier, Livingston County Extension crops educator.

Shier sometimes wonders what might happen if an ill animal attended the fair, infected others and the illness wasn’t discovered until all the animals had gone to the four ends of the earth. How quickly could exhibitors be informed? How could animals be tracked down and examined?

Shier is about find out. Livingston County has been selected as one of three participants in an animal identification pilot project for county fairs. Stephenson County in Northern Illinois and Bond County in Southern Illinois will also participate.

The pilot project will operate as a partnership between Illinois Farm Bureau and the University of Illinois Extension. The goal centers on attaching radio frequency identification tags to animals before the fair, scanning tags at the fair and checking tag retention.

``Like Illinois livestock farms, county fairs are going to have to have premise numbers and be able to trace movement of animals that show there,’’ said Jim Fraley, IFB livestock specialist. ``We hope to tag 50 dairy cattle, 50 beef cattle, 50 sheep and 50 swine in each county. This will help educate our young adults. Even a 4-H’er with one head of livestock will need a premise identification number.’’

Fraley secured a grant to pay for the tags, a $500 tag reader and the Extension staff time spent tagging animals. Information from the reader will be downloaded to a laptop computer.

``The data won’t be reported anywhere. We want to find any pitfalls or unanticipated problems. Will there be problems installing the tags? Will the tags get ripped off before the fair? Will the reader easily record the tag information,’’ Fraley asked.

Dave Seibert, U of I Extension area livestock specialist, said the project should further show which types of tags best fit separate species. Micro-inserts will work best for horses, emus and ostriches, he noted.

Hogs pose a particular tagging problem. Seibert said small, button tags cannot be used for young pigs because their ears hang down. Tagging at certain weights and ages can also cause ear damage that detracts from a show pig’s appearance, Seibert said.

Ultimately, Fraley and Seibert hope to use the pilot project findings to help fairs across the state prepare for mandatory animal identification requirements in 2008.

A national animal identification system is aimed at providing a quick way to trace livestock from the farm to the dinner plate in case of disease or bioterrorism. The ultimate goal is a 48-hour traceback after initial diagnosis of animals that may have been exposed to a disease.

The first step in the process for Illinois and other states began in the fall of 2004 with a voluntary registration of farms and other places where livestock gather, including fairs, auction facilities and veterinary clinics. Of an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 such locations in Illinois, only 2,000 have registered. About 20 of the state’s 105 fairs have premise identification numbers, excluding Livingston County.

The next step will be animal identification. Shier found strong support from Livingston County Fair Board members for the project. The project will begin Feb. 11 when about 100 beef animals will be weighed for fair entry information.

``We typically have 250 hogs, but only 30 sheep show. We’ll probably try to tag 20 to 30 hogs. We’ll work with families who have the most hogs,’’ said Shier.

John Gall of Odell hopes beef entries chosen by his 15-year-old son, Michael, receive the radio tags. The Galls, who care for a herd of 60 Angus cows, got their premise identification number last summer.

``I was about a half-step away from getting the tags for our calves last spring. I’m still trying to decided what type of tag to get,’’ said Gall. ``It’s the coming thing. We feed cattle out, so it’s essential for us to have tags to trace. We’re taking a product from our farm to the consumer and for export.’’

Source : Pantagraph