K-State ramps up its role in livestock ID effort
By Mary Lou Peter
With interest growing among U.S. consumers and overseas buyers regarding the origins of their food, Kansas State University researchers are taking a lead role in evaluating electronic technologies that track livestock movements.
A technology that shows promise in tracking an animal's life from birth to death is the Radio Frequency Identification system, which involves the use of tags on cattle. A Radio Frequency Identification tag is a small object that can be attached to or incorporated into an animal -- on the animal's ear, for example, in the case of cattle.
K-State's efforts were bolstered by a $441,430 U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service cooperative agreement announced April 6, 2006. The agreement allows K-State professor of animal science Dale Blasi, pictured at left, and other K-State researchers to work with the Kansas Animal Health Department, the Kansas Department of Commerce and other agencies and companies to study factors that compromise electronic technologies designed to track cattle movements.
The Kansas Department of Commerce provided an additional $30,000 to help the collaborators determine what the technology and cost requirements would be for cattle auction markets to comply with a cattle identification system.
"The opportunity to conduct this research in both laboratory and practical cattle working environments will enhance our understanding of the application and provide realistic expectations of what this technology can provide for U.S. beef producers," said Blasi, who leads the K-State Animal Identification Knowledge Laboratory.
Other K-State researchers working with Blasi on the project are professors of agricultural economics Ted Schroeder and Kevin Dhuyvetter and professor of statistics Jim Higgins. Other collaborators include Cargill Meat Solutions, National Beef Packers, Tyson Foods, the Livestock Marketing Association and several companies that manufacture animal identification technology.
The project, expected to last one year, has three main objectives, Blasi said:
*To characterize the incidence and extent of ambient environmental interference affecting radio frequency tag and reader function in commercial cattle auction market sites, cattle abattoirs (packing plants) and commercial feedlot processing facilities.
*To determine the extent of variation of read-range performance by numerous electronic tag and reader manufacturers, as affected by the location where the tag is applied to the animal's ear.
*To determine the amount of new investment in technology and the additional variable costs in equipment, facilities and management that cattle auction markets would need to incur to comply with a cattle identification system.
While the research will yield information that will benefit the U.S. livestock industry and beef consumers, there is another beneficial component, Blasi said. K-State students who assist in the research effort will take away invaluable experience they can carry into their careers once they leave the university.
In addition to the research, university faculty have held and participated in educational sessions for producers and others who are interested in livestock identification.
Blasi can be reached at 785-532-5427 or firstname.lastname@example.org