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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 704

September 22, 2010

Animal Identification, Traceability, and the Future of bTB Control - William Shulaw, Extension Veterinarian, Ohio State University

When I first began veterinary practice in 1971, cows on many farms were identified by names such as "Blackie," "Bonnie," or "Sparky." (Ah yes, I remember Sparky well!) Since then there has been an explosion in the methods one can use to identify animals. These range from simple numbered metal and plastic ear tags to sophisticated electronic identification systems that allow storing much more information about an animal than just a number on an ear tag. Tags and boluses that not only identify the animal but which can also monitor body temperature and report it to a hand held device or computer are now available as well. (1) Systems are being tested that could allow remote monitoring of an animal's location via computers and GPS technology. In fact, one of my colleagues has been using this technology for some time to track wild ducks in his avian influenza research program.

Not all of these new systems will prove commercially viable for the livestock industries, but some have already proven their usefulness. As long as three years ago, I collected blood samples from animals a 300 cow beef herd that were identified with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and we were able to scan their ID directly into a computer and print off bar-code labels for the blood vials right beside a working chute located far from a barn. The capability exists to use this technology to scan animal ID directly into animal health forms and for a laboratory to scan the bar code on the blood vial to put that information into their computer system and subsequent reports. This has tremendous potential to reduce human error in the testing process and to make work faster and easier at the farm and laboratory. The RFID tags used at this farm have had an extremely high retention rate and have frequently allowed the correct identification of animals that have lost their visual identification tag making them a valuable tool in animal management.

It was recently reported that "Last year, more than 19 million of the nation's 30 million beef cows and 9 million dairy cows crossed state lines." (2) Available data suggest that only about 28% of adult cattle have any form of official identification that would readily allow tracing their movement in case of a disease outbreak. (2) "Official" identification refers to a method of identification unique to an animal or premise that is specified by state or federal government. Approved methods vary somewhat by state, species, and class of livestock but are typically ear tags, registry numbers, and tattoos. Perhaps the most familiar of these are the alphanumeric metal ear tags from the National Uniform Ear Tagging System and which are provided by the USDA. These typically begin with a two-digit number that is unique to a state followed by capital letters and then four numbers such as 31ATM4444. The "31" indicates that the tag was applied by a veterinarian to an animal that was located in Ohio. Official tags can now be had that use the 15-digit international standard numbering system, including RFID tags. The national Scrapie Eradication Program uses a special premise identification numbering system, and all breeding sheep, most exhibition sheep, and any sheep over 18 months old must identified when they change ownership or move in interstate commerce. This identification scheme has been in place since late 2001, and we are making remarkably good progress in eradicating scrapie.

Officially identified animals, accompanied by appropriate paperwork, allow animal disease officials to trace animals that may be exposed or otherwise involved in a disease outbreak after they have left the farm. However the system is far from perfect and can fail us. Unfortunately this may be when we need it most such as in outbreaks of serious disease like bovine tuberculosis (bTB), brucellosis, or, heaven forbid, foot and mouth disease. There are some common identification problems animal health officials encounter in tracing animals involved in disease outbreaks. The first is that ear tags are notorious for becoming lost. If an animal that has lost its tag is not retagged, and is subsequently comingled with other animals without identification, its identity may be gone and finding it again may be very difficult. This problem is compounded by failure to keep records on animals and their comings and goings at the herd level. As an example of this, imagine a situation where an animal is exposed to bTB in one herd and is then sold for breeding or into another commercial channel where it finds its way to a second herd. Assume that a short time after it entered the second herd, it lost its tag and the tag was not replaced, or the replacement tag number was not recorded in such a way as to link it with the first one. If bTB is diagnosed in the original herd, tracing of animal movements from it may lead to the second herd, but finding that exposed animal may now be impossible, especially if the second herd is a relatively large one. This may require quarantining the entire second herd and testing all the animals until it can be fairly certain that bTB has not become established in it.

Another problem is the removal of identification tags after an animal is relocated. This might be done to facilitate the record keeping system at the second location or because the old tag was difficult to read. If the old tag number, and the available RECORDS on that animal, is not retained, future identification of it may be impossible. It is important to know that intentional removal of an official form of identification is against the law. Of course the reason for this is to maintain a way to trace an animal's movement or source in the event of disease exposure. Official ID tags from USDA, like those of the National Uniform Ear Tagging System, can be recognized by a shield with the characters "US" inside it printed or stamped on the tag.

A third animal identification problem regulatory veterinarians frequently encounter during disease investigations is that an animal is found with multiple tags; perhaps all of them Official ID tags. This indicates that the animal probably has been moved across state lines multiple times, but it may be impossible to track that movement, except for perhaps the most recent instance, and multiple tags could even delay the tracing effort. Multiple tags in an animal may happen for several reasons, but it is usually because the last time an animal was moved it was difficult or inconvenient to read an existing tag, and it was simply easier to apply a new one. If multiple forms of official ID are present on an animal, all of them should be recorded on a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection and a new one should not be added. All official identification should be a part of an animal's permanent record on the farm. Keeping those records is as much a protection for the owner as it is a tool for regulatory officials in tracking disease and exposures. Farm records need not be complicated or elaborate, but having them and being able to provide identification and information about an animal's movement history in the event of a trace-out of disease to the farm may make the difference between experiencing an inconvenience and being quarantined and having to test the herd.

During USDA fiscal year 2009, six bTB cases in fed cattle (non-adult) were detected at slaughter. (3) Fortunately, ear tags allowed identification of the source herds and travel history for three of those animals. However, no unique animal identification was available for one feedlot-origin animal, and multiple consignors had contributed to the feedlot pen from which it had originated. If animal identification is not available, or not recorded, at the slaughter plant where most surveillance for bTB is done, tracing investigations on all animals in a pen or shipment may be necessary to try to locate the source of the infection.

Even when the source herd for a tuberculosis-infected animal can be identified easily, the subsequent investigations can be an enormous effort. As just one example illustrates - in April of 2009 a cull cow with bTB was detected at slaughter, and the source herd of 800 adult beef cows in north central Nebraska was identified. Subsequent testing of this herd detected an additional infected cow. (3) Investigation of the cow movements into and from this herd, as well as fence-line contacts, resulted in the quarantine of 61 herds in 20 counties and the testing of 21,764 animals. (4) No additional infected herds were found, but the costs of testing, borne by taxpayers and herd owners, and the financial and emotional strain of quarantine on herd owners are not easily quantified.

Earlier this year the USDA announced that it was abandoning its plan to develop a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) that has been in the development phase for several years and which was somewhat controversial. In February it announced that it was initiating a new effort to develop a framework for animal disease traceability. (5) It is holding a series of public meetings and has solicited the assistance of the stakeholders in the livestock industries in developing the plan. It would apply only to animals moving in interstate commerce and would be implemented by the states. Coordinating individual state plans for making traceability both usable and efficient will be a major challenge. Obviously, an effective system will be of benefit for tracking important diseases other than bTB.

In her report to the Committee on Tuberculosis at the October 2009 meeting of the United States Animal Health Association, Dr. Alecia Larew Naugle, National TB Program Manager (and 1998 OSU Veterinary College graduate), suggested that farmers consider the following with respect to bTB and the need for a new approach to managing it:

In this new approach, producers and industry will also have responsibilities:

* Advancing their knowledge about bovine TB and risk factors for introducing TB into their herds

* Evaluating their management practices to identify if any of these risk factors are present and implementing mitigations to reduce these risks

* Developing industry- and producer-driven components of the TB program and generating the funds necessary to support these activities

* Continuing to engage in discussions with State and Federal animal health officials concerning the TB program. (3)

If we, collectively, decide that the bTB eradication program, started by our grandparents in 1917, is important to finish, we can do it. We have the technology and basic infrastructure to do so if we want to. Writing in the American Journal of Public Health in 1973, Roswurm and Ranney wrote: "The primary problem we face in tuberculosis eradication is a people problem." and in the following paragraph: "The result is that in the animal health field, we have a few people that have considerable interest in seeing the bovine tuberculosis program completed; and many, many people who care little about this work. The people problem transcends all of the technical problems." (6) We, the people, have to decide what inheritance we will leave our grandchildren.

1. http://www.drovers.com/directories.asp?pgID=712 - a list of identification device suppliers. Accessed September 8, 2010.

2. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2010-08-08-livestock-usda-regulations_N.htm USA Today (online issue), August 8, 2010.

3. http://www.usaha.org/committees/reports/2009/report-tb-2009.pdf - Proceedings of the 113th United States Animal Health Association Meeting, report of the Committee on Tuberculosis, October 2009.

4. http://www.midwestagnet.com/Global/story.asp?S=12276490 Midwest AGnet, April 8, 2010.

5. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/ - announced February 5, 2010.

6. Roswurm JD, Ranney AF. Sharpening the attack on bovine tuberculosis. Am J Public Health 1973;63:884-886.

Preg Check Your Cows . . . Please! - Dr. Les Anderson, Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky

In last month's article, I discussed the impact of heat stress on pregnancy rates. Heat stress reduces conception rate to 30-35% and can result in fetal loss during the early stages of pregnancy. Pregnancies can be lost between days 25-45 due to heat stress. Both of these factors lead to low pregnancy rates.

As many of you know, the UK Beef IRM group conducts a number of Advanced Master Cattleman courses throughout the state. Advanced Master Cattleman classes are typically on-farm demonstrations that illustrate the advantages of different production practices discussed in Master Cattleman. These on farm demonstration projects are sponsored by the Kentucky Beef Network and the Kentucky Agriculture Development Board.

We have several reproduction projects this spring and I have begun collecting the data. These projects are designed to illustrate the production advantages of a controlled calving season and using estrus synchronization and AI. I have conducted these projects throughout the state of Kentucky for the last 5 years. Most have been exceptional learning opportunities for the participants.

This year, our lesson appears to be heat stress. Pregnancy rates are low so far pretty much across the board. Dr. Burris runs the herd at Princeton and does an exceptional job with his cattle; rarely does his pregnancy rate fall below 92-93%. This year, even the Princeton herd was not immune to the heat stress as the pregnancy rate was just slightly over 80%. Pregnancy rates of cows are even lower (55-60%) for cows that were not "treated", or in other words, those cows that we did not try to control reproduction.

Basically, this is the perfect year to "correct" your mistakes; sell those cows that fail to conceive and those

that keep calving late in the calving season. Pregnancy evaluation in cattle is an important and valuable management tool. Checking the pregnancy status of your cow herd allows you to make timely culling decisions and focus your resources on the sound, reliable breeders in the herd.

I hope "preg checking" is an annual ritual for your herd. If you have not incorporated this management

practice in the past, the dry conditions this year and the need to get rid of a few cows may force you to do so. When it comes time to cull cows from your herd, pregnancy status is one of the first criteria that will determine whether a cow stays in the country or goes to town.

According to the results of a survey conducted by the National Animal Health Monitoring System, fewer

than 20 percent of beef cow calf producers used pregnancy testing or palpation in their herd. However, the benefits of this practice are fairly simple to realize. First of all, pregnancy diagnosis allows producers to identify "open" or nonpregnant cows. Compare the roughly $5 per head cost of a pregnancy exam with the $100-200 per head cost of hay alone to feed an open cow through the winter (if you can find hay for $30 per roll). It's easy to see that pregnancy testing quickly pays for itself.

Second, pregnancy testing will provide a producer an estimation of when cows will be calving based on

the age of the fetus at the time of the pregnancy exam. An average calving date can be calculated and the producer can use this information to better supplement, the cows through the winter. Remember, the nutrient needs of cows vary throughout their production cycle; cows nutrient requirements are highest immediately before and after calving and are lowest in the second period of pregnancy. Knowledge of the stage of pregnancy can help producers make efficient feeding decisions. For example, most producers will have hay of varying qualities in storage. Since cows in the second period of their pregnancy require less nutrients, producers can target their lower quality feedstuffs for the time when their cows nutrient requirements are the lowest. Alternatively, producers can save their best quality feedstuffs for the postcalving period when a cow's nutrient requirements are the highest. Thus, obtaining the pregnancy status of your cowherd will allow a producer to adjust the supplementation in a timelier manner.

Finally, if the herd needs to be culled and pregnant cows need to be sold due to drought and lack of pasture, knowing the pregnancy status of the cows will be appealing to potential buyers. Buyers will be looking to purchase cows that will calve closely in line with the cows already in their own herds.

Pregnancy diagnosis is a quick and simple procedure that requires an experienced veterinarian. Two practical methods for pregnancy diagnosis can be used in beef cattle: 1) rectal palpation and 2) transrectal ultrasonography. Rectal palpation is most common and is an accurate form of pregnancy diagnosis that can be performed after day 45 of pregnancy. Many veterinarians are proficient at rectal palpation, and this procedure requires little time in the squeeze chute. Transrectal ultrasonography, commonly referred to as ultrasound, can be used to detect pregnancy as early as 28 days with a high degree of accuracy. This method can be employed just as quickly as rectal palpation when done by a skilled technician and may provide additional information that cannot be determined by rectal palpation. Using transrectal ultrasonography, the technician is actually "looking" at the fetus and can determine the viability of the fetus and the incidence of twins. It is also possible to determine the sex of the fetus between days 60 and 90 of pregnancy.

A final piece of information to keep in mind is to sell cull cows early. The market for cows is usually good through September, and then the price goes south at a fairly rapid pace until it bottoms out in November. So, pull the bulls at the end of the breeding season, schedule to pregnancy check your cows about 45 days later, and get rid of the open cows and other culls before cow prices take a nose dive.

The Workings of the Market - Dillon M. Feuz, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Applied Economics, Utah State University

Sometimes I am amazed at how coordinated the markets are. In this case I am talking about the Live Cattle, Feeder Cattle and Corn markets. On a fairly regular basis I calculate feedlot break-evens for different weights of feeder cattle to be fed to finish. I am typically taking current feeder calf prices and corn prices as given and then using Live Cattle futures prices to project expected returns to feeding and to determine the break-even selling price for fat cattle. However, I often use this information as well when I am looking at feeder cattle prices and trying to decide if I think they might be moving higher or lower over the next few weeks or months. As we are moving into fall, when we will sell a large number of feeder cattle, I was trying to determine how optimistic or pessimistic I should be about fall calf prices.

I first looked at the corn market. That is a little scary. Dec. Corn futures have risen from $3.50 per bushel at the end of June to almost $5.00 per bushel; the close on Sep. 14 was $4.95 per bushel. Where is the top in that market for this fall? I don't know the answer to that, but what I do know, is that feedlot cost of gains have likely increased over $10 per cwt of gain. One model I use would suggest about $11 per cwt increase for feeding a 700 lb steer to finish at 1300 lbs. That would imply an increase in feeding costs of $66 per head.

I looked at Nov Feeder Cattle futures to see if they had declined by $9-10 per cwt to offset that higher feeding cost. What I saw was that the contract had declined about $5 from mid August, but that Nov Feeder Cattle were currently priced $5 higher than they were in late June. I needed one more piece of information for this to make any sense. I looked at Feb 2011 Live Cattle prices over that same time frame. Feb. Live Cattle were trading at $94 in late June and closed at $102 on Sep 14. An increase of $8 per cwt on a 1300 lb steer is just over $100 per head.

So, let's look at this math and see what it tells us. A feedlot could now expect to sell fed cattle in February 2011 for about $100 per head more than what they thought back in June. However, it will cost them about $66 more to feed them at current expected corn prices than what was expected in June. That means that if I were trying to keep the same profit margin, I could pay $34 more per head for a 700 lb steer compared to what I thought I could pay in June for the fall delivered steer. On a 700 lb steer that is $5 more per cwt. The exact difference between the Nov Feeder Cattle contract the end of June compared to today.

What is the take home message: if you want to know the direction of feeder cattle prices headed into fall, watch the corn board and the fed cattle board. My concern right now is that corn may continue to increase and fed cattle may not. Therefore, feeder cattle would likely fall in price in that scenario. Increased supply of feeder cattle in the cash market over the next couple of months will also likely pressure feeder cattle prices lower.

Weekly Roberts Agricultural Commodity Market Report - Mike Roberts, Commodity Marketing Agent, Virginia Tech

LIVE CATTLE futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) closed sharply lower on Monday. The OCT'10LC contract closed at $98.150/cwt; off $1.250/cwt but up $0.70/cwt from last Monday. The DEC'10LC contract closed down $1.350/cwt at $100.600/cwt but $0.225/cwt over last report. The APR'11LC contract closed at $103.525/cwt, down $0.725/cwt but $1.30/cwt higher than last week at this time. Futures lost ground on follow-through selling from last Friday's bearish Cattle-on-Feed report from USDA. USDA's report put August placements at 107.1%, a four-year high, and well above average estimates of 99.5%. Marketings were close to estimates of 106.8% and the September 1 On-feed supply was placed at 102.8% of last year, a three-year high. The report initiated fund rolling long October positions into December and unwinding of bear spreads. Analysts, on average, expected a 1.1% increase in feedlot cattle numbers. Cash cattle were weaker with USDA putting the 5-area average at $95.68/cwt; down $1.30/cwt from last report. USDA put boxed beef on Monday at $156.94/cwt; up $0.32/cwt but $12.48/cwt lower than last report. Live cattle faltered from the start. Floor sources stated that "We probably wouldn't have fallen so much had the market not settled higher Friday before the report." Packers were unwilling to bid up cash cattle amid negative margins. According to HedgersEdge.com, the average packer margin was lowered $29.40/hd from last week to a negative $12.25/hd based on the average buy of $97.45/cwt vs. the average breakeven of $96.51/cwt.

FEEDER CATTLE at the CME followed live cattle lower on Monday. SEP'10FC futures closed at $110.650/cwt; down $1.175/cwt and $1.70/cwt lower than last report. The OCT'10FC contract finished up $1.100/cwt at $110.750/cwt; $1.625/cwt lower than last week at this time. The NOV'10FC contract finished at $110.950/cwt, off $1.400/cwt and $2.075/cwt off from last report. Sell orders in September and October feeders were tripped after both months bridged three-month lows. Cash feeders in Oklahoma City were $1.00-2.00/cwt lower with estimated receipts placed at 8,500 head vs. 10,070 head last Monday and 11,019 a year ago. The CME feeder cattle index was placed at 112.22/lb; off 0.51/lb and 1.49/lb lower than last Monday.

CORN futures on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) closed down on Monday. DEC'10 corn futures closed off 5.0 cents/bu at $5.082/bu but 24.75 cents/bu over last report. The MAR'11 contract closed at $5.212/bu; down 4.5 cents from Friday. The DEC'11 contract closed at $4.732/bu; down 4.5 cents/bu but 17.25 cents/bu higher than last Monday. Corn futures rallied to their highest level in two years then retreated to end down for the day on profit-taking and farmer hedge-selling. According to several floor sources traders backed off fears that a late U.S. harvest and frost in China might limit supplies. Others on the floor see corn prices falling after such a strong opening as a predictor of topping action in corn futures. Even the most pessimistic traders don't think the supply hiccup is worth $5.22/bu. Most sources believe, me included that corn prices will be pulling back over the next few days. USDA's World Agriculture Supply Demand Estimate (WASDE) report due out October 8 should give another snapshot of supply. The most recent report by USDA projected an average yield of 162.5 mi bu per acre. Exports were disappointing with USDA putting corn-inspected-for-export at 28.460 mi bu vs. expectations of 35-40 mi bu. China is expected to continue importing corn as imports soared to 432,191 tonnes (17 mi bu). Funds sold 7,000 lots on profit taking amid a volume of 356,000 contracts, up 10% from the 30-day average of 323,218 lots. It is significant to note that net fund length in corn was at 444,100 lots, the highest since April 1996 and 32% open interest, an all-time high. Cash corn was flat to weaker amid brisk farmer selling.

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