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What Does ID Offer Producers?

A Nebraska producer provides his view on the value of individual animal ID.

Is there anything right about animal identification (ID)? With the changes currently occurring in our industry it might be that we are pushed to the wall for awhile. Is national ID just another one of those pushes from the outside leaving us with more cost and no return? Are there any positives that could come to me, as a producer, from identifying my cattle?

What Various Levels of Animal Identification (ID) Can Tell You — Potential Available Information
No ID Calf IDed on leaving premise Calf ID only individual ID at birth Cow ID only Cow/calf ID tied at birth with bull ID information
Calf none general herd production
Herd yield grade (YG)
Herd quality grade (QG)
Herd ribeye
Herd backfat
Herd carcass weight
Herd days on feed
general herd production
weaning weight
weight/day of age
Individual vaccination tracking
Individual treatment tracking
Herd YG
Herd QG
Herd ribeye
Herd backfat
Herd carcass weight
Herd days on feed
none Individual birth weight
Individual weaning weight
Individual wt./day of age
Individual vaccination tracking
Individual treatment tracking
Herd average YG
Herd average QG
Herd average ribeye
Herd average backfat
Herd average carcass weight
Herd average days on feed
Cow none none none Calving date
Breed back
Cow's breed back ability
Calving date
Herd average cow YG
Herd average cow QG
Herd average cow ribeye
Herd average cow backfat
Herd average cow carcass weight
Herd average cow days on feed
Individual cow % body wt./wean
Individual cow YG EPD
Individual cow QG EPD
Individual cow ribeye EPD
Individual cow backfat EPD
Individual cow carcass wt. EPD
Individual cow days on feed EPD
Bull none none none none Individual bull YG EPD
Individual bull QG EPD
Individual bull ribeye EPD
Individual bull backfat EPD
Individual bull carcass wt. EPD
Individual bull days on feed EPD
Bull progeny birth weight
Bull progeny weaning weight
Bull progeny wt./day of age
Bull sickness tracking
Bull disposition tracking

I believe producers have barely begun to wring profits from their cattle. To do that will involve doing things we as an industry haven't done before. Most assuredly, there will be additional costs and, once again, the labor involved (our sweat) won't be recompensed.

What is there to gain? Let's look at some specific areas of our operations that have already benefited from ID. Does anyone who's used calving expected progeny differences (EPDs) for the last 5-7 years have any extent of distocia problems? Score one for tracking, but thank your seedstock producers.

Has anyone paid attention to the weight gains they've seen at weaning in the last decade? Score another one for seedstock producer tracking.

If we commercial producers, the largest segment of the cattle business, would implement a few of the possible tracking (ID) scenarios within our herds, we could see a major improvement across the industry. After all, isn't it ultimately commercial producers who have the major input, by genetic decision, as to what will end up on the plate?

With National ID in the wings, the product from your operation will eventually be accounted to you. What will differentiate the quality of your product from that of Australia, Argentina or Brazil?

As good business people taking care of their shareholders, packers are beginning to implement in-plant animal tracking. Eventually, this will mean that a simple cut between two ribs no longer will be the deciding factor on an animal's value. The end result — how the animal fits in a meat case — will decide the value of the animal you raise.

And the value differences most likely will be significant enough that calves sold in the auction barns will be impacted.

Take the bull by the horns, look at the tracking grid on page 47 and imagine the next step you can take to improve your herd, your product and your bottom line.

Art Brownlee is a commercial cow-calf producer based in Ashby, NE;