In the cattle industry, people often talk about “early adopters.” Dean and Trudi Peterson, who own and operate the E.L. Peterson Ranch along with their family, could certainly be poster children for the term when it comes to using electronic identification in their cattle herd. The family has consistently been early adopters of technology.
“We started using EID tags as part of a retention study 10 years ago and put tags in every animal we owned,” Dean Peterson says. “Our hope was that we could use the tags in our production recordkeeping.”
Originally started in 1950 by Dean’s father, the E.L. Peterson Ranch is located near Judith Gap, Mont., and began as a sheep operation. Since that time, the ranch has evolved to include a cow-calf herd, a heifer development lot and a backgrounding operation. Sheep still find a home on the ranch and are used to control leafy spurge. Hay and grain operations provide feed resources for the feedlot.
As early adopters of EID technology, the Petersons have had to deal with many of its growing pains. “The first batch of EID tags that we used had posts that were too short and, as a result, infected many of the calves’ ears and had to be replaced,” Peterson says. “We’ve learned that laptops don’t like negative-20-degree weather and had to modify our working facilities to accommodate their use chuteside.”
The Petersons have been working to create a system that will give them a snapshot of any individual animal’s entire production history as soon as its tag is scanned. While they haven’t found the perfect solution, Peterson says that is still his ultimate goal and is working on creating his own Excel-based system. “We want to be able to coordinate our visual appraisal of a cow with the data we have on her lifetime production history.”
The ranch has managed its commercial operation for a long time with a commitment to keeping as much data on each animal as possible. The difference has been that the information that used to be recorded in longhand is now all collected in electronic format.
With all those records, identity preservation is critical. All of the E.L. Peterson Ranch cows are tattooed, carry a visual tag, as well as a brisket tag, and have the electronic identification. The ranch also hot brands all of its cattle. “In spite of all of those methods, we have still been down to only one form of individual identification on more than one animal, so tag retention can still be an issue,” Peterson says.
“If you’re serious about the cattle business, you need to monitor what and how your cow herd is performing. EID can help you do that,” Peterson says. “It’s an expense, but for our operation, it is just a part of doing business.”
Electronic identification is also playing a critical role in the ranch’s backgrounding and heifer development operations. In addition to backgrounding their own calves, the Petersons also take in several hundred head of customer cattle and have been doing so for over a decade.
“We have encouraged EID use among our customers,” Peterson says. The practice not only supports recordkeeping but also has become a component of adding additional value to the backgrounded calves.
Not long after the Petersons incorporated EID into their own recordkeeping systems, they learned the American Simmental Association was looking for cooperator commercial herds to develop carcass EPDs for Simmental sires. The Petersons jumped on board and have welcomed the additional data the project has generated for to their production records.
The progeny testing program with the American Simmental Association has grown to include evaluations of female traits, such as longevity and calving ease, as well as an evaluation of how early weaning affects calf performance. Calves from the E.L. Peterson ranch are also being used for residual feed intake studies.
“Originally, we really wanted to capture carcass information, and we felt like EID was a necessity,” Peterson says. “The program has grown from there.
“Over the years, we have embraced stepping out of the box,” Peterson adds, “but I don’t think EID and individual animal identification is a radical concept in the cattle industry anymore.”