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Brand law needs input from on-the-ground ranchers
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Brand law needs input from on-the-ground ranchers

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Jaclyn Wilson raises Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. Send comments to her at jaclyn@flyingdiamondgenetics.com.

There’s a movement going on in Nebraska right now. The thing about movements is there are some that have good intentions. Others just set out to seek and destroy progress and try to harm people’s livelihoods.

Now a proposed change to state brand law seems to force all of us to be in the same position instead of allowing us to choose what may be best for our operation, or as a friend on social media called it “dealing with the flat earth descendants.”

Nebraska state Sen. Steve Erdman is a farmer in the 47th legislative district and Sen. Tom Brewer is retired military in the 43rd legislative district. Last I knew, neither senator owned a cow, or if they do, they evidently don’t brand it since nothing shows up on a simple search of the Nebraska Brand Committee brand book. If they decide not to brand, that is their decision, as it is not state law that you must brand livestock. Surprisingly, around 40% of the livestock in the Nebraska brand inspection area are not branded when they are sold.

Last year there was a significantly large overwrite of Nebraska brand law. LB 572 contained major reforms, including allowing the Nebraska Brand Committee to develop and adopt procedures for non-visual identification. Both senators voted in favor of that bill.

The brand committee, since the passing of the bill, has put together a working group consisting of some of the brightest and most progressive people within Nebraska’s beef industry to work on developing those procedures.

The first meeting came under fire because the media was not allowed in, and it was not open to anyone outside of the working group (just like every other working group I have ever heard of). After some temper tantrums, future meetings will require registration of attendees (which is very much within state law). Meanwhile, I’m over here wondering why all those that are raising a stink about a working group meeting – some who don’t even own cattle – are so set against progress that they aren’t even willing to see what the working group comes up with before they jump to their own misguided conclusions.

Both senators clearly made the decision to bring forward their own bill instead of listening to the will of the people involved in the industry and supporting what they previously voted for. LB 744 would strike what both actively supported and voted for last year.

I get really tired of wishy-washy politicians that don’t allow the experts – those with actual skin in the game – to do their job.

Now let me explain this frustration from the opinion – and actual experience – of a progressive cattlewoman, that not only owns hundreds of head of livestock, but who is not a politician, and whose livelihood depends on beef cattle alone.

I use a hot iron brand. I have three brands registered with the state of Nebraska and have used them all at one time or another. I also use visual tags, EIDS, ear tattoos, DNA, and have gone as far as to have cattle electronically scanned for facial recognition.

When I sell cattle or move cattle across the brand line (in the eastern third of Nebraska), or out of state, I am required to have a brand inspector come out, look at the cattle and verify that I own them. After inspection, and me paying a fee, I am given a blue paper that has the head count, gender and brand recorded on it. This is even the case if I have an animal that is not branded. Then the paper in the brand location is filled with an “NB.”

The paper goes with the livestock as a bill of sale. If you are like me and have bought cattle over the years and decide not to rebrand them with a new brand, you have a drawer of these blue papers.

So, what is the problem? When I resell these cattle, whether it be privately or at the sale barn, I must grab one of these blue papers to take with me. I reach in the drawer and pick one. As long as it has the brand on it I need and the right gender, I am good to go.

There is not enough copy space in this publication to talk about the pros and cons of branding, to hash out why there is a brand line near the middle of the state, to talk about the economics of brand inspection, or to contemplate the animal rights issues that are becoming increasingly associated with branding. What I want as a producer that knows every single animal on the place and has multiple forms of individual animal identification on that animal: I want to grab a brand paper and know that that paper legitimately goes with that animal.

Is this such a harebrained idea? No, it's not. Almost the entire dairy industry runs on non-visual identifiers instead of brand, as do some of the largest feedlots in the state, and it is becoming increasingly popular in the seedstock industry and even commercial cow-calf operations.

If you send a bovine over state lines currently, you are required to have it identified with a nationally recognized tag on its health paper. In our case we use the 840 Electronic Identification (EID)-tags that we have been using since 2011. For 11 years these have been a main form of identification for us. They are easy to use, easy to keep track of and even though we have one individual that brands, I can still read an EID faster than some of our brands – especially in the really hairy winters.

As an added bonus, the retention of these tags has been absolutely amazing. EIDS are just a small portion of the non-visual identifiers. Technology is continuing to show new and exciting progress each and every day. If someone would have told me two years ago that I would have a pen of steers that had computer facial recognition on them, I would have laughed. But you want to know what happened when they were brand inspected? Half the brands could not be read correctly because of the winter hair growth.

In my many years I have seen more brands misread than non-visual identifiers. Don’t believe me? Talk to any brand inspector.

If individual ID is good enough for health papers and an entire sector of the cattle industry, why can’t it be a consideration for those that voluntarily want to utilize what they already have in place? Or, are wanting to be progressive and implement new and more efficient technology down the road? Sen. Erdman? Sen. Brewer?

I think what bothers me the most about the whole situation is that just like with so much going on in the world right now, we need to let the people decide. (Or in this case, the decision should lie with those that are actually involved in the beef industry.)

Nonvisual identifiers are completely voluntary. It should not be up to the government to prohibit the use of technology on farms or ranches – especially in a state that is nicknamed the Beef State.

I know historically the mainstream beef industry is silent on certain topics. It is not for lack of opinion, it is for lack of desire to get involved in confrontation. Do not let those not involved in the cattle industry dictate progress – or worse yet, hinder it.

It does not matter to them whether my business and my legacy continue another 134 years. If it did, maybe they would give us the opportunity to speak and actually listen to the will of those looking to preserve the beef cattle industry.

That’s what I’m doing, and I hope you do, too.

Jaclyn Wilson is more than a rancher, raising Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. She’s an artist with a welder’s torch. She holds leadership positions with several agriculture organizations. She can be reached at jaclyn@flyingdiamondgenetics.com. This column represents the views of one person and are not necessarily the opinion of the Midwest Messenger.   

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Jaclyn Wilson raises Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. Send comments to her at jaclyn@flyingdiamondgenetics.com.

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