To see January's Q&A,  click here.

Over the past two months, Drovers has asked readers to submit their questions about the continuing development of the National Animal Identification System. Following are some of the questions we received and answers provided by two of the top authorities on NAIS.

Since external eartags often are lost, wouldn’t a subcutaneous electronic ID tag work better for premises ID?

Dr. Hillman: The Food and Drug Administration classifies implantable electronic identification devices to be adulterants in animal products and are therefore not the mechanism of choice to identify animals at this time. Work continues in an effort to identify locations on an animal for implantation of devices so the device can be eliminated at slaughter. At some point we may be able to utilize such devices for identification. 

Another reason for utilization of eartag devices is to provide a visible tag that can be quickly recognized as an official identification device. The visible tag will also have the number printed on the tag, enabling visual recording of the number if necessary. For producers with small herds, the ability to manually record the identification number would preclude the necessity for an electronic reader. 

When a cow is sold to another producer, does the cow now acquire another premises tag for the new location?

Mr. Hammerschmidt: No, the cow will have one official tag with the animal-identification number (AIN) printed on it. When the animal is sold, the animal’s movement will be reported, allowing the database to associate the AIN to the buyer’s premises-ID number. Let’s say Rancher A lives at Premises A12345D and his bull is assigned AIN 840123456789012. Rancher B owns Premises Z54321A.

If Rancher A with Premises A12345D sells bull 840123456789012 to Rancher B, Premises Z54321A, the bull’s AIN will remain the same (840123456789012). However, the premises-ID number associated with the bull will change on the date of the movement. For example, the information system could have information similar to this:

Animal: 840123456789012
Date: Feb. 2, 2004
Premises: A12345D
Event: Tag applied

Animal: 840123456789012
Date: Oct. 1, 2004
Premises: Z54321A
Event: Moved in

Couldn’t we provide the protection consumers want by requiring permanent identification on all imported cattle and beef products?

Dr. Hillman: USDA currently requires permanent identification of all cattle imported into the country from any other country. This identification is helpful if the animals are implicated in a disease outbreak, such as was the case with the Canadian cow that was found to be infected with BSE. USDA was able, in a short period of time, to confirm that the cow was an imported animal. Although the animal was identified, we do not have an effective traceability system in place in this country that would enable rapid tracing of all animals that may have been exposed to a disease. In the BSE example, it took USDA several weeks to try to identify all of the animals imported from Canada. Additionally, if only imported animals were identified, we would not have a mechanism to trace all of the native U.S. cattle which may have been exposed to a disease-infected imported animal. 

If each location within the ranch has a different premises-ID number, what happens if the owner moves cows from one location to another, such as for breeding purposes? 

Mr. Hammerschmidt: While the locations within the ranch can have separate premises-ID numbers, it will not be necessary for producers to report animal movements that occur for typical management purposes within the overall operation. If a producer maintains truly separate cattle operations, however, it will be of merit to have the animals linked to separate, specific premises IDs, such as if a producer owns both a purebred herd and a commercial herd that are managed at different locations and that are not commingled. Again, having a record of each premises would help animal-health officials determine the magnitude of an investigation that would be needed if a disease were identified in one of the animals at that premises.   

We own property that crosses state lines, so our cattle graze in different states while in the same pasture. Will we need to get a separate premises-identification number for each part of the property based on the state where it’s located?

Mr. Hammerschmidt: If a property crosses state lines but is managed by the same operator as part of an operation where cattle routinely commingle, it will most likely be sufficient to obtain a single premises-identification number. In these cases, the property owner/manager should contact the appropriate authority in each state where the property lies and explain the situation to determine how best to proceed with premises identification. The owner/manager may wish to begin with the state veterinarian that is responsible for certifying the herd’s disease status or with the state in which the cattle-management facilities are located.

We manage cattle from multiple owners. We maintain individual-animal identification by tattoos and tags so we can identify owners and offspring, but we group the animals by nutritional needs. Do we need to obtain multiple premises-identification numbers for each owner?

Mr. Hammerschmidt: No, you do not need to obtain multiple premises-identification numbers (PIN) for each owner. PINs refer to geographic locations where animals are held, managed or boarded. In this case, the cattle manager would obtain one PIN for his operation, since all of the cattle he manages commingle. If the cattle are born or held elsewhere before being sent to the manager in question, those other locations should also have PINs.

Eventually, each head of cattle should be individually identified with an animal-identification number (AIN) tag. When the animal is moved, the animal’s movement will be reported, allowing the database to associate the AIN to the receiving location’s PIN. 

It is important to note that the AIN associated with each animal will never change (the AIN tag will be permanent), and the PIN associated with each location will never change. However, in the database, the PIN associated with each animal will change on the date of the animal’s movement, and a travel record will be created. 

We sell pregnant cows that a seedstock breeder ships to customers. The customer purchases the calf but sends the cow back to us after weaning. How will these animals be identified and tracked? 

Mr. Hammershmidt: The cattle working group suggests that three basic events will trigger the need for reporting animal movements for individual-animal tracking: change of ownership, interstate movement and multiple owners commingling their animals. In this case, the pregnant cows will need to be identified with an animal-identification number (AIN) before they leave the owner’s premises. Their movement to the customer’s premises will need to be reported by the customer (or the owner if both parties agree to this arrangement). After the calves are weaned, the owner of the cows will need to report the cows’ movement back to their original premises.

The calves will need to be identified with AIN tags that were assigned to the premises where they were born (the customer’s premises) before leaving that premises. This process ensures that the animal-tracking system accurately reflects each calf’s point of origin (customer’s premises) and that the dam’s information also reflects that she was located at the customer’s premises.

To recap, each location where cattle are held or managed will have a PIN, and each animal will have an AIN tag. Once the NAIS is fully operational, a cattle owner/operator will report the AINs of all animals that arrive at his or her premises and the date of their arrival. 

There are essentially four pieces of information required to document an animal-movement event:

1. The animal-identification number (AIN)

2. The premises-identification number (PIN) of the location where the event takes place

3. The date of the event

4. The event type (movement in, movement out, sighting of an animal at a
location, termination of the animal, etc.)

Please send your questions about the NAIS to Drovers, 10901 W. 84th Terrace, Lenexa, KS, 66214 or e-mail kwatson@vancepublishing.com or jmaday@vancepublishing.com. We will try to address questions in future issues as the NAIS evolves.