“In 2004, when it looked like the National Animal Identification System might become mandatory and implemented right away, we thought it was necessary to move quickly and start establishing an animal identification system in our herd,” says Wayne Fahsholtz, president and CEO of the Padlock Ranch. “If we were going to be required by law to identify all of our cattle, we wanted to figure out how we could make money doing it.”
Prior to that time, the ranch was only using EID on a limited basis, primarily in its composite seedstock breeding program.
For the Padlock Ranch, such an undertaking was no small task. The operation runs approximately 11,000 cows and stretches from Hardin, Mont., to Sheridan, Wyo. — a distance of approximately 85 miles.
“We approached implementing individual animal identification differently than many opera-tions and identified our cow herd first,” says Fahsholtz, who has been with the Padlock for seven years. That decision represented a large initial investment for the ranch but one that ranch management feels has paid off.
The Padlock uses a system of a visual panel tag paired with an electronic identification tag. The visual tag is easy for cowboys to read when out checking cows, and the EID tags add a second method of individual identification. “The EID tags have really helped us in our inventory management, especially considering the extensive conditions we operate under,” Fahsholtz says.
The ranch’s calf crops also benefit from individual identification. Calves are tagged with a visual tag at branding; an EID tag is added at weaning. After weaning, the Padlock Ranch backgrounds all of its calves in a growing lot on the ranch. The Padlock monitors several performance traits while the calves are in the feedlot, and the individual identification helps aid in that process.
Heifer selection has also been supported by the Padlock’s identification program. The heifers are tested for gain, scored for frame size and muscling, and then sorted into three phenotypic groups. The heifer groups are then artificially inseminated, summered on native range and pregnancy-checked in the fall.
The Padlock’s marketing programs also have benefited from the adoption of individual animal identification. The Padlock Ranch has been marketing a large portion of its calf crop through Country Natural Beef (www.countrynaturalbeef.com) since 2004. For calves to be eligible for the natural beef program, they cannot have received any antibiotic treatments. The electronic individual animal identification helps ranch personnel maintain the necessary records for the calves to be eligible for the program.
All of the Padlock Ranch’s calves are age and source verified through Global Animal Management. Doing so has added premiums for conventionally raised calves that don’t qualify for the natural beef marketing outlet. Fahsholtz believes that the identification program brings a lot of inherent benefits to the ranch and its cattle operations. “Between the management potential with selection, and the marketing benefits through the natural program and source and age verification, our investment brought a return,” he says.
For the Padlock Ranch, individual identification of the entire cattle herd will continue to play a role in future management and marketing decisions. The Country Natural Beef program focuses on creating relationships with consumers. The opportunity to individually identify animals and one day tie a meat product back to its ranch of origin holds promise in Fahsholtz’s opinion.
“We want to be able to offer consumers more information about the source of their beef,” Fahsholtz says. “Right now that is difficult to do through the processing stage, but implementing this identification system will be a first step to overcoming that challenge.”
New technologies are also being explored to address one of the biggest challenges to running cows at the Padlock Ranch — its vast size. “When you operate in conditions like ours that are so extensive, we simply cannot tag calves at birth. However, we want to be able to tie our calves’ performance back to their individual dam. We are exploring some new technologies that will allow us to read EID tags at longer distances, which will help us with that goal.”