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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


More Efficient Beef Cattle Production, Marketing Eyed With Tagging Program

February 21, 2002

WOOSTER, Ohio - Ohio beef cattle producers may soon be leaping into the age of technology with the help of a newly implemented electronic identification program.

Ohio State University animal scientists have installed an electronic verification system at all of its Extension beef cattle branches throughout the state. Researchers have ear-tagged some 1,200 head of cattle at its research centers in Coschocton, Caldwell, Jackson, Ripley, Columbus and Wooster for the purpose of collecting and tracking information about a specific animal as it moves through the production and marketing processes.

"The bottom line is that in order to assist with the research efforts that involve everything from breeding records to DNA research, we have to be able to have an animal's life history," said Francis Fluharty, an Ohio State animal scientist at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "The electronic identification system is a means of having a permanent record that is quickly accessible to people in the system."

The program, which was started this past fall, was also designed to educate producers on using the system - how to install it and how to collect and analyze the data so as to determine which production process is most profitable for them. The system will eventually be integrated into regional beef industry alliances that are being developed to improve beef production and marketing.

The electronic verification system works by tagging a cow with a unique 16-digit number, which can be scanned by producers or processors. Because the number is unique, said Fluharty, the chance of analyzing information on the wrong animal is slim. Such errors can occur more easily when the same visual tag numbers are used at a farm.

The EID number is used in spreadsheets or data management software programs to make sure that the animal's unique identity is maintained. The data management software is used to store such information as how often an animal was sick, its overall condition, its age, how often it received vaccinations and certain genetic traits or carcass characteristics it possesses.

Fluharty said that information from cows in the EID program would be more accessible to processors and packers, who could then inform producers of what traits they look for in a quality carcass - a move that may eventually be more profitable for both processors and producers as alliances are formed.

"The producer would know how well they are doing in producing a quality food product," said Fluharty. "So for example, if they know which carcasses produce the genetic traits that express characteristics desired by consumers, then they could keep that most productive heifer and continue producing a product that the market wants."

Ohio State researchers will begin conducting training seminars for cattle producers this summer. They expect to tag approximately 1,000 calves per year throughout the research branches.

According to 2000 Ohio Agricultural Statistics, Ohio is home to 1.2 million cattle and calves valued at over $330 million.

Candace Pollock
Francis Fluharty