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WLSB discusses the role of brands in animal ID system

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Cheyenne—“There are natural holes in the brand system in regard to individual animal traceback. The brand system is designed to determine ownership and an animal identification system is designed to trace out individual animals,” says Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa on why the brand system alone won’t work for Wyoming’s individual animal identification program.
“There is a lot of overlap between the two, but there are situations where the brand system can’t trace one animal because it isn’t designed for that,” he says, adding most of the time the brand system works, and works very well, and the success rate climbs even higher when an animal has a form of individual ID such as a bangs or scrapie tag.
“We also found out that sometimes an animal is just flat not branded. That surprises people today, but we’ve had animals go through sale barns occasionally that aren’t branded and in those situations the brand system doesn’t help us at all,” explains Romsa.
On the other side are trader cattle that have gone through multiple states and have accumulated several brands.
“It becomes increasingly difficult to trace cattle as they sell and split and move in and out of the state. Matching those brands up and ensuring they are Wyoming brands becomes impossible in some situations.
“For example, if you have a group of cows with five or six brands and they are mixed with 100 other cows with five or six different brands and this happens two or three additional times, we have a situation where conducting individual animal traceback becomes difficult and time consuming and the chance of success are much lower than average,” explains Romsa.
To determine the most recent, or ownership, brand, the WLSB relies on paper trails to trace animals. Romsa notes it’s typically easier to distinguish the first brand than the most recent because a brand applied as a calf will grow with the hide and be larger.
While most brand states require brand inspections when cattle go out of state or a change of ownership occurs, fewer require an inspection when cattle move from county to county.
“Wyoming is one of the few states that requires inspections from county to county. One reason we require that is because our counties are relatively large. We have 23 counties in Wyoming, verses 64 in Colorado and 93 in Nebraska. It becomes a matter of practicality not to require inspections between counties in some states,” comments Romsa.
Some species do not have brand requirements, such as poultry and swine. Both species are found in Wyoming in relatively low numbers, but the need to be able to conduct tracebacks still exists for both.
Another reason the brand system is ineffective for animal ID on its own is the fact the hide, and therefore the brand(s), don’t go with the carcass at slaughter.
Romsa explains by the time an infected animal is found during the slaughter process, that individual’s hide is mixed with thousands of other hides. There is the hope an eartag was kept with the carcass that can match it to a brand, but the odds of that happening aren’t high enough to ensure traceback.
Right now Romsa is awaiting direction from the WLSB on identification. He adds that at this time most everyone in the state is for a voluntary system, and that indications are still strong that states will be responsible for developing their own identification systems.
“Our producers would be more comfortable with a state-developed system. One size just doesn’t fit all. Nationwide, the majority  of cattle come from herds of 50 or less because of the vast amount of small farms in the south and Midwest. Individually they have a small number of cows, but they add up to a huge percentage of the U.S. cattle herd.
“But that’s just not how things are in the Mountain West. We have the biggest ranches in the U.S. in Wyoming, and most producers don’t see their cows every day and in some cases they may not see them for several months. It’s a different type of industry here and allowing us to develop our own ID program will maximize its efficiency,” says Romsa.
There are already two ID systems in place within Wyoming – scrapie and brucellosis – which encompass a large percentage of livestock.
“A lot of our animals are already individually identified through those programs and we use those forms of ID to conduct traceback. Animals coming into the state are one area the board is seriously looking at,” says Romsa.
He adds that some speculation includes talk that the federal government will eventually require a mandatory system that states will be responsible for implementing on any animals that go into interstate commerce. This would include almost all animals in Wyoming.
“If we already have a voluntary system in place the Board can look into changing it if and when a mandatory system is required,” says Romsa.
“We’re very fortunate in Wyoming to have a good brand inspection system because it is a huge help in animal traceability,” adds Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan.
The brand system will continue to be used in conjunction with the Wyoming animal traceability program to the fullest extent possible, explains Romsa. “It’s low-cost, permanent and producers are familiar with it,” he says.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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