KINGSVILLE, Mo. — Cattlemen from across Johnson County gathered on March 13 at the Kingsville Livestock Auction to learn about the security a new-to-Missouri traceability program can provide their operations.
Launched in 2018 as a Kansas pilot project, CattleTrace was created to provide traceability throughout the beef supply chain — from cow-calf through slaughter.
Partners for the project include the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas State University’s Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas Livestock Association and private industry partners.
To ensure anonymity and the protection of producers’ data, the group formed a limited liability company, preventing government access to stored data with the exception of its use in the event of an animal disease outbreak.
Having enrolled over 36,000 head of cattle in the first year of operation, the program has moved beyond the pilot phase and is in conversation with surrounding states to enroll cattle.
“CattleTrace is an industry-driven initiative,” said program manager Cassie Kniebel. “We have put a lot of work into developing a hands-free system that works at the speed of commerce while capturing minimal data points — the goal is a program that works on a national scale.”
Kniebel told the group of cattle producers that the program centers around three main objectives: infrastructure, evaluation and economic value.
The infrastructure provided by the ultra-high frequency tags and readers will look at only four points of data: time, date, animal ID and animal location. The evaluation objective — already somewhat validated with some enrolled animals nearing slaughter, Kniebel said — looks at the accuracy of the data collection to determine if the program is working.
And the value component continues to identify the costs and benefits of a disease traceability system throughout the supply chain at both an industry and producer level.
The United States Meat Export Federation calculates a $323.14 value per head of fed cattle slaughtered from U.S. beef exports in 2018. Justin Smith, who serves as the state veterinarian for Kansas, told producers that in an animal disease outbreak, the greatest benefit traceability can provide an operation is exclusion.
“When I go out to do a trace, I can’t afford to miss an animal that may have been exposed,” he said.
“My biggest objective is to be able to exclude your herd out of that trace. When that happens, I can let you go about your business, and I can keep narrowing down. This isn’t a fear thing, it is reality in the way the livestock industry works. We [the U.S. cattle industry] move a lot of animals fast, and we move them a lot.”
He said producers are often surprised by how many traces the state veterinarian’s office performs.
“About one a week, ranging from minor to extensive,” he said.
And they each take time.
“The way we do a trace is not very efficient. Today, the average test for a tuberculosis exposed animal is somewhere around two years,” he said. “That is not acceptable, we have to be faster.”
The USDA-approved ultra-high frequency, tamper-proof CattleTrace program tags are available with a $1 per head CattleTrace participation fee. Each tag represents a unique 15-digit number and operates much like the readers on turnpikes that scan a pre-paid tag on a car as it enters and exits.
The technology also allows an operation to capture data for its own use, beyond the four points of CattleTrace data, an opportunity MFA Incorporated’s Mike John, director of the Health Track program, says he is excited about.
“[MFA] is excited to try a new technology that can be fitted into any type of environment and allows us to do some things beyond disease traceability,” he told producers.
The Kingsville Livestock Auction is the first livestock auction in Missouri to participate in the CattleTrace program, joining eight Kansas based markets, 14 feedyard locations, numerous cow-calf producers and the three major packers in the state of Kansas.