Canadian beef producers who ever wanted to know how their calves performed at the feedlot or graded at the packing plant will be able, later this year, to connect to a new information network being developed by the Canadian Cattleman’s Association (CCA), which in theory could launch a whole new era on how beef cattle are produced and processed in this country.
The new Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) is the first national program to provide a direct two-way communications link between producers through to packing plants, says Larry Thomas, who has been working to set up the information exchange system as one of the first projects in his role as national coordinator of the CCA’s Canadian Beef Advantage initiative.
“If data is of value to a beef producer, this will be an excellent new tool available to them,” says Thomas. “BIXS will provide an information flow between the three main beef industry sectors — the producers, the feedlots and the packers. It will be the conduit through which the whole production and processing chain will be able to tell producers how their cattle performed through the feeding and processing phases, but also will be a tool that packers and feeders can use to send market signals very directly and specifically back to producers.”
Thomas sees BIXS as an important tool for establishing long term alliances and relationships between producers, feeders and packers. A BIXS pilot project involving about 10,000 head of cattle in feedlots across Canada, is just wrapping up this month, and it is expected BIXS will be available to all producers by early summer. Although it is a crawl/walk/ run process, Thomas sees over the next few months information will begin flowing through the system creating the proverbial win/win/ win scenario for all parties.
Once the program is launched, producers who register with BIXS will be able to go on line and get feeding and carcass data back on their cattle.
“Many producers for years have been asking questions such as ‘how is my breeding program working, is it producing the type of cattle that feedlots and packers want,’” says Thomas. Or they must just wonder, “I had a nice group of calves this year I wonder how they finished and graded?” There have been a number of projects developed by producers or beef associations aimed at tracking and reporting through the feeding and processing sectors, but this is the first national program that will link the three key players. Down the road it could also be expanded to include retailers, which will provide even more information through the whole beef production chain.”
BIXS, which is a voluntary program, has many potential benefits, says Thomas. As the information system matures it can be used by producers to find out how their cattle performed at the feedlot or graded at the packing plant. It can be used by the feedlots to identify those cattle produced with certain genetics — specific cross breeding programs — and also to identify the production protocol under which cattle have been produced. The system can also be used as a benchmarking tool by producers. How does your cattle operation stack up to other local farms and ranches, regionally, provincially and/or nationally? Individual premises won’t be identified but producers will be able to compare their operations to other similar operations locally or across the country.
“As the program gets rolling there is basic information that is required,” says Thomas. “But the option will be there as the program matures to enter more detailed information at all levels — from the producer, to the feedlot, to the packer — which will ultimately help the industry produce more high quality beef for both a domestic and international marketplace.
“If data isn’t of value to a beef producer, then he or she isn’t obligated to participate in BIXS,” he says. “But if that data is important, it can be properly analyzed to help producers fine tune their management so they are consistently producing cattle with a better fit for the market place, or even custom produce cattle for a specific end market.” Whether there are premiums paid will depend on agreements made directly between producers, feedlots and packers.
The key to making BIXS possible is the Canadian cattle identification program, launched in 2003, which has every market animal in the country carrying a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag. That tag is the tool that provides the tracking and traceability through the whole production and processing chain.
Basic information required from producers includes age verification of cattle, either individual animals, or at least the dates of the calving period for a group of animals. Feedlots will collect basic information on rate of gain for cattle from the in date to out date, and packers will be collecting information such as slaughter date, carcass weight, yield and grade. Beyond that, the software has been developed so each sector can provide a wide range of optional information, that ranges from on-farm production practices, to feedlot ration and animal health care protocols, to specific carcass quality traits.
Thomas, who has been working with an industry team to develop BIXS, says there are unlimited applications as the data begins to flow. On one hand producers can find out how their breeding program is working, but individual feedlots, for example, can also begin sending a message back that says we are looking for a consistent supply of this breed type, that has been managed under a certain program at the farm. Or the packer can go back through the system to feeders and/or producers with specific requirements in cattle to meet their end needs. Getting the feeder or packer information back to the farm is something the producer has to agree to with permission for premise or source identification.
“But, the exchange of information is where I see ongoing relationships developing through the supply chain,” says Thomas. “Producers can make agreements to produce and supply cattle that meet feedlot specs and packer needs.”
The pilot project involves about 10,000 head currently being finished in feedlots in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The main requirement for the pilot program was to have age verified cattle that were to be finished between January 1 and March 31, 2009. Participating feedlots began uploading their data to BIXS in late February and packers will begin uploading their data on those cattle starting March 29.
“Once the pilot program ends, we will do an assessment to see what bugs have to be worked out of the system, and hopefully we will be ready to launch this system to producers in late spring or early summer,” says Thomas. “Participating producers will need to have the Web Service software so they can tie into BIXS, but one of the fundamental criteria in developing this system was that it had to be simple and very user-friendly. It is totally voluntary, and once producers register they will be able to supply as much or as little information as they wish.” BIXS will be accessible with either dial-up or high speed internet.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]