Cattle tracking won’t slow sale process: Alta. study

Alberta’s current traceability platform can be used at cattle auction markets without much or any effect on the rate at which cattle are unloaded or sold, the province reports.

The provincial ag department on Tuesday released data from its 10-month Alberta Auction Market Pilot Project, run at six markets in the province between October 2009 and July last year.

“We are pleased that this pilot project showed that there was little or no impact on wait times for cattle to be unloaded, or to the length of sales,” Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden said in a release.

However, the project report also calls out a number of potential weak links in such tracking systems, such as tag types and tagging compliance.

The project met its performance goal of a minimum 95 per cent read rate of animals with functioning RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, the province said. In all, 248,335 cattle were delivered to the markets; another 25,857 animals were age-verified through the added checkpoint.

“Fundamentally the pilot project proved that it is possible to scan cattle at the required speed and with the required accuracy within an auction market environment,” the project report said. All six sites topped the 95 per cent minimum read performance on RFID tags within the first two weeks of operation.

Movement data gathered at the six markets was uploaded directly to the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency’s (CCIA) Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS).

Reading systems, the province said, were configured “to meet the unique approach of each auction market to receiving, shipping and processing cattle, and to minimize the impact on speed of commerce.”

The distance cattle moved between unloading and penning at the markets was “slightly increased, but had little or no impact on wait times for cattle to be unloaded,” the province said.

“Mistakes”

The “bigger challenge,” the report said, will be to make sure cattle arrive at markets with functioning RFID devices and with accurate birthdate information so their age verification data can be made available at the time of sale.

“Current protocols with respect to retagging animals with missing, non-reading or bar-coded ear tags and correcting data with obvious mistakes do not allow these issues to be addressed at the ‘speed of commerce.'”

The project report also noted “significant” differences in the performance of the different CCIA-accredited tags in use in Alberta. Some “consistently performed at an exceptionally high level of read performance (over 99 per cent) while others were consistent under-achievers.”

Tag placement in an animal’s ear also had an “enormous impact on retention and readability of the different products throughout all pilot sites, which could have been easily avoided,” the report said.

It was also “extremely noticeable” that compliance rates on cattle tagging were highest leading up to the expected Jan. 1, 2010 date for elimination of bar-coded ear tags, the report said.

“It was also noticeable that the compliance rate immediately slipped once producers realized the ‘no bar-codes’ policy was not going to be enforced.”

High-flow scanning systems, which involved four panels on each side of a five-foot alley, were the main reading system at four of the pilot markets. Another used dual-panel systems in single alleys in two pre-sort barns and a six-foot wand for pen reading. The sixth market used a 10-foot wand reader from a catwalk over the unloading area and a high-flow system for larger lots.

The cost analysis section of the project report suggests “greater modification of existing facilities on market sites” would help improve the systems’ effectiveness and market operators’ “acceptability” of the scanning installations.

However, the report noted, such modifications would need “additional capital beyond the pilot study levels.”

In setting up traceability systems, it will also be “imperative” that the auction market sector isn’t penalized compared to other forms of livestock sales, such as direct or ranch transactions, the report said.

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