Cow-calf producer Kevin Boon sees the new national Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) as a useful tool to help beef producers fine tune their breeding and management programs.
The old Blue Tag program, which allowed producers to track specific animals through to processing so they could get carcass grading and quality information, was a very rudimentary forerunner to what BIXS is designed to be, says Boon, who ranches west of Edmonton.
“BIXS initially will provide that flow of information back to the producer from feedlots and packers that will either help them confirm or provide some guidance on what they need to be doing with their genetics programs,” says Boon.
“For many cow/calf producers raising calves every year is just a shot in the dark,” he says. “Are we producing what the industry wants? There are not only differences between breeds, but within breeds. We pick a cross breeding program but how do those calves finish, how do they grade? That will be one of the first things this flow of information will tell us.”
Boon who is vice-president of the Alberta Beef Producers is also a member of the advisory team that has been working with Larry Thomas, national coordinator of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Canadian Beef Advantage program, to develop the first national beef information exchange system. BIXS is being tested in a pilot project this winter and hopefully will be available to Canadian beef producers this summer.
The voluntary BIXS will provide an electronic, on-line network between producers, cattle feeders and packers. With all market cattle now carrying an electronic identification tag — essentially from birth to slaughter— it will be possible for producers to describe the type of cattle they produce and how they were produced. On one hand feeders and packers will report through BIXS how those cattle fed out and how the carcasses graded, but the system can also be used as a feedback mechanism that will enable producers to adjust their breeding programs and management programs to produce cattle that best fit a feedlot’s requirements or a packer’s end-use market.
“The whole process is voluntary and initially for anyone who signs up they may only provide the most basic information that includes date of birth or age verification,” says Boon. “But beyond that there is a wide range of optional information — details on production practices — that can also be included in BIXS.
“So for me as a cow-calf producer I would be able to include such information as date of birth, the cross breeding program, whether and/or how these calves were castrated and dehorned, the type of vaccinations if any those calves received, weaning weights, and perhaps details about proper handling and environmental practices on my farm. That is all information that may help to fit these cattle into a specific feedlot or meet the requirements of an end-use customer.”
Boon says while he can see relationships developing between producers and feedlots or packers to produce cattle with certain specifications for specific markets, he can also see potential for auction marts to tie into the system as well.
“We could have a system down the road where an auction mart, sees the needs of packers or feedlots for cattle with certain specifications and they decide to organize a sale that will assemble 5,000 head,” says Boon. “So the auction mart can get in touch with producers in their local area who have cattle that meet those specs and let them know this might be a good sale for their cattle.
“I don’t see farmers being able to sell their information on BIXS for more money, but I think as we are able to produce cattle that better fit feeding programs, or packer programs that those cattle will have higher value. The benefit of this system is that we will be able to produce cattle that a worth more.”