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Animal Identification

Producers planning to implement an age and source verification program in 2010 can do so through The Wyoming Business Council’s (WBC) program. The WBC works through the AgInfoLink’s USDA Process Verified Program, which is relatively simple to implement according to WBC Livestock and Meat Marketing Manager John Henn.
“The process with our program starts by setting up an appointment for an onsite enrollment process. After we verify calving records we go through the details of the program and the next step for the producer is getting program compliance (RFID) tags and putting them in the calves,” explains Henn.
Calving records can be as simple as a note on the calendar marking the first day of calving, which is the minimum amount of documentation necessary for a verification program. Henn adds that almost all producers already have this date written down somewhere.
Additional producer responsibilities include purchasing tags, putting tags in cattle and verifying to him the cattle with tags. Tags cost $1.75 each through the WBC program and there is an enrollment fee of 75 cents per head enrolled. The WBC provides ranch enrollment and the onsite audit as a service to producers.
RFID tags have 15-digit numbers and can be uploaded with birthdates and a number. The tags contain a chip that contains the tag number and can be scanned throughout the animal’s life. This information is also put in a database to allow tracing if there was ever a concern related to the cattle. The WBC works with AgInfoLink for the age and source verification.
If producers don’t already have a USDA premises number, Henn can provide a location number for the program during the onsite audit. This number includes a rancher’s contact information and physical address. Ranchers can also call the Wyoming Livestock Board and get a Premises Identification Number (PIN) for their operation.
“The benefit is for feedlots that sell cattle to packers with age verification. The interest for those buyers will be calves that are certified. Packers are paying premiums for cattle that are age verified for Japan. Premiums from packers will vary depending on packer, supply, demand and time of year. The premiums usually range from $10 to $60 per head,” explains Henn.
However, not every buyer is looking for age verification. Those running cattle over on grass won’t be because their cattle are over 20 months of age when they are finished. Henn notes that interest in verified cattle will depend on what the buyer plans to do with them.
“If a producer knows where his calves are going and if buyers are looking to run them as yearlings, there’s really no added value. But, it’s something they can do that they already have the information for. The only extra things are purchasing tags, placing them in the calves and enrolling cattle. It doesn’t take very much additional bidding activity to get their money back,” explains Henn.
“The markets and buyers dictate the value based on production practices and quality. There are a number of layers of added value for calves like genetics, reputation, pre-conditioning and health programs. Age and source verification is another layer of potential added value,” explains Henn.
In 2009 the WBC’s verified program audited and enrolled 49 new producers, bringing total producer enrollment to 157 since it started in 2006. Over 50,000 Wyoming produced calves were enrolled, up about 10,000 head from 2008. 
“A number of enrolled producers did see an increase in market value due to verification,” says Henn.
Henn will add to the program a calf nutrition verification claim for pre-weaning or post-weaning nutrition based on the inclusion of organic trace minerals. He also does natural and BVD-PI Free verification for producers on an independent basis. 
Listing the cattle for sale at www.wyobeef.com promotes and markets the animals for potential buyers to review. 
“The key is to make it successful for everyone and capture additional value dollars,” says Henn.
For more information contact John Henn at 307-777-2847.  Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Casper – A May 18 Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) meeting included substantial discussion about the brand division, with topics ranging from brand renewal and computerization to brand inspector salaries.

“It’s been a busy month,” said Lee Romsa, brand commissioner, during the meeting. “We’ve had district meetings throughout the state, and we’ve also handed out the tablet computers to our inspectors for our new system.”

Computerization project

WLSB launched its computerization effort several years ago in an effort to increase the usability of brand records and to enable faster traceability of livestock movement in the event of a disease outbreak. With software development as an ongoing process, the Brand Recording Division of WLSB is in beta testing for the equipment.

“We started computer training this week,” said Romsa. “Frankly, it’s a good step forward, but it won’t be a quick or easy process.”

With challenges in the technology gap and some software and training concerns, Romsa notes that it may take significant time before brand inspectors around the state are fully comfortable with the system.

Despite the hurdles, he added, “Reactions from inspectors have been mostly positive. While some of our inspectors really don’t want to go in this direction, they are willing to give it a try. It’s going to take a lot of work, and it’s going to be a process.”

Inspector input

Brand Inspection Supervisors from the state commented that changing to a new system is a challenge.

“Online training is really difficult for people who are already intimidated by a computer,” said Gary Zakotnik, a supervisor from Eden. “The inspectors in our division are really trying to make this thing work, but they’re running into some roadblocks.”

At the same time, some portions of the program are still under development, and as training progresses, new developments are being made to improve the process.

“We just started on May 16 with training, and there are parts of the program that aren’t quite finished,” Romsa said. “It’s a very frustrating process, and it’s a very complex system.”

He added, “This is a difficult task, but our inspectors are willing to try, and they’re willing to learn. We appreciate that, and we don’t take it lightly. It’s been really important.”

Wages

During the 2016 Budget Session of the Legislature, the Wyoming budget included in it raises for brand inspectors.

“We’ve talked about a two-phase system with the raises,” said Steve True, WSLB director.

At the same time, questions about implications of federal rules.

“In 2014, the DOL was tasked by the president to revise their wage and hour overtime rules and the exemption clauses within that,” True said. “That rule went to the Office of Budget Management in March this year with substantial changes.”

The final rule was released on March 17 in its final form.

Wyoming A&I noted that WLSB is likely to become non-exempt from overtime and compensatory time rules, and True mentioned that there was also conversation about transitioning from a salary program to an hourly wage program to facilitate the rule change.

Exempt status is based off of several parameters. The first is a salary basis test. The old test said salaries of $23,660 and above can be classified as exempt if certain duties and statuses are met.

“Typically each exemption has one to four items that we must meet to be exempt,” True said. “The salary basis had been increased to $47,456 per year, and there will be adjustments every three years.”

If salaries do not exceed that amount, the rule states that an overtime or compensatory time program must be utilized.

True noted that brand inspectors would not qualify for an exemption as a result.

Additionally, he did not accept the recommendation that brand inspectors be paid on an hourly basis.

“Among other things, it wouldn’t be fair for our inspectors to fight for a raise in the legislature and then not be able to give it to them because we changed to hourly,” he said. “It also maintains stability within the program.”

True also noted that a more substantive, more refined daily time card system must be implemented, however, to accurately account for time spent.

Increased time accountability may be beneficial in some respects, though, True said.

“It can help us figure out how effective we are and if there are underserved areas in the state,” he commented.

Challenges

“We feel there is a period of time necessary to track a cost-analysis of the overtime program. We feel salary may not be as expensive as overtime on an hourly basis,” True said. “We can talk about how a compensatory time program would work to the advantage of the inspectors.”

He added, “We would accept, if necessary, a review period of one-year to look at cost and efficiencies. We feel this is a big enough issue that all stakeholders deserve a voice.”

Possible consequences include loss of valuable personnel, necessity for new wage projections in difficult budget times and the need for additional part-time inspectors in some regions.

WLSB is also working to ensure that brand inspectors maintain their current healthcare benefits.

“We need time to study this to make an informed decision before the program goes forward,” True said.

The rule requires compliance by Dec. 1, 2017. It is still subject to Congressional review, True added, and bills in both houses have been introduced to nullify the bill.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Nebraska – Based on his experiences in the swine industry, Walt Hackney says American cattlemen should proceed toward source verification with caution. Hackney is known as a cattle industry analyst, specifically for the feedlot sector.
    “I find no legitimate reasoning for the packing industry to have access to the actual source of feeder cattle,” says Hackney. “It would seem the only advantage in supplying that information to the packing industry is to give them first-hand access to superior grading and superior performing cattle in the feedlot.”
    Hackney says, “As a result of my thinking, I feel it will be within a year or two, if they attempt to legally enforce source verification or USDA makes it some sort of market preference that a cattle feeder has to comply with, that the packer will have his own representative at the source of supply.”
    While Hackney predicts initial contracts will be offered at a premium to ranchers with the better cattle, he doesn’t expect those contracts to maintain their premium value long-term. After offering a two- to three-year contract to a rancher, he says, “When that contract runs out that rancher is going to find out he only has one game in town as a marketing source.” With just one buyer left, the packer, Hackney says, “That buyer, knowing he has a strong lever, will come in with a totally different type of sales program.”
    “I saw it happen in the late-90s in the hog industry,” says Hackney. Saying there’s a distinct parallel between the hog industry and the cattle industry, he says many of the companies are the same. “It’s just different divisions,” he says. “The difference being that the packer doesn’t want, nor can he afford, the capital expense of buying cowherds and land like he was able to buy and build hog-producing units. He’ll do what he can to put the rancher under a supply contract.”
     While the packing industry doesn’t want Country of Origin Labeling that would allow consumers to determine source, Hackney says they do want source verification and he wonders about the reasoning.
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – During an April 7 meeting of the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB), Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa reported, “Though early in the year we were running ahead of the prior year for inspections, overall we were down a bit from 2013.”

Data showed that total brand inspection forms from 2013 to 2014 dropped by 1.07 percent, with the largest decrease seen in cattle. 

Inspection numbers

Total livestock inspected in 2014 hit 1,409,217.

“Overall, total livestock inspections were down 5.25 percent,” Romsa said. “Cattle were down 7.07 percent. We inspected 1,082,876 cattle in 2014.” 

Horses also saw a decrease of 4.80 percent from 2013 to 21,460. However, inspections of sheep increased by 3.71 percent to 300,557 sheep.  

“This year, our inspections depend on this month and next month and the moisture that we get,” he said. 

2015 predictions

Romsa commented, “Our moisture over the next couple of months  will determine what our year will look like. There is pretty severe drought in other states surrounding Wyoming.”

If droughts continue, Romsa mentioned that producers will be seeking available pasture where they can find it. 

“Pasture rents are high right now,” he said. “If people have grass, we will probably have out of state cattle come in to Wyoming. If not, we might see a sell off.”

Romsa also noted that a general retention of heifers has been seen in the state, but if severe drought hits, it is possible that heifers will be sold to compensate.

At the markets

“Market inspections were down roughly 75,000 head from the year before,” Romsa said, noting that the number is a decrease of 19.87 percent from 2013. “This is a trend we have seen for many years.”

Romsa explained that, going back to 2000, over 900,000 animal were inspected at livestock markets around the state of Wyoming, but in 2014, only 276,842 livestock were inspected. 

“Since 2000, we have lost a couple of markets,” he said as a reason for the decrease. “People are also marketing their cattle differently through video sales and whatnot.” 

Brand renewals

Romsa also reported that brand renewal finished on March 1, and of the approximately 5,700 brands up for renewal, 77.2 percent were renewed. The remaining 22.8 percent were listed as delinquent. 

Romsa also noted that this year, the WLSB sent out certified notices that brands needed to be renewed.

Under delinquent status, producers are still able to renew their brand for an additional fee above the renewal fee. 

“Most years, we have about 80 percent of our brands renewed,” Romsa said, adding that in the last 30 days, nearly 60 delinquent brands were renewed. “Brands will not be listed as abandoned until next year.”

On average, the WLSB maintains between 28,000 and 30,000 brands that are registered. Brands are abandoned for a variety of reasons. 

“People may abandon a brand when they retire, or the brands may be dropped after a death. Other brands are dropped when people move or other things,” Romsa said. “Overall, we have a fairly constant number of brands in Wyoming.”

Romsa also noted that the Brand Division of the WLSB is almost fully staffed, with only one position in Torrington still open.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

During a recent webinar, Monty McInturff, a Tennessee veterinarian, noted that horse identification is widely varied and subjective based on horse ownership. In moving forward in the industry, an identification standard should be selected. 

“We need to find the techniques that are best for our horse and will serve it,” he said.

The purpose of identification is not only to identify ownership, but also to locate a specific horse, McInturff further noted. 

New technological advances are enabling the industry to pinpoint exact animals.

Microchips

Microchips are generally for local identification of a horse by a veterinarian and can be a permanent form of identification for show purposes.

“It is also used by some international agencies as a source of permanent identification,” McInturff said. “Microchipping is very respected and well known in the equine industry.”

The chip, which is inserted by a veterinarian, is usually placed under the skin in the mid-cervical area near the crest in the neck, McInturff explained. The chip contains data like ownership, age of horse, breed and color. Some chips are readable and can contain additional information like health records. 

“The problem with chips is that many require a certain reader,” McInturff said. “If the horse was chipped in Texas, moved to Tennessee, and I don’t have the reader they had, then the chip can’t be used, and the information on the chip can’t be retrieved.” 

DNA

DNA analysis is used by breed registries to verify parentage upon registration of young horses. 

DNA is analyzed from hair roots taken from the mane or tail or blood samples taken by a veterinarian or owner and sent to a lab. Although DNA is very precise, McInturff said, it can’t be determined that day. 

“Also, if one of the parents is not registered, it can’t be used to identify a foal,” he said. 

Iris scanning

The newest technology in horse identification is iris scanning, which is similar to a human fingerprint, McInturff said. 

“A picture of the iris is taken, and that picture is mapped by an infrared camera. That mapping of the iris is given an alphanumeric number that is placed in the database. That database can be held locally or nationally,” he said. 

“What is unique about this process is that number is specific to that horse’s eye and that horse. Each horse has two permanent identifying markers at all times – a left eye and a right eye,” he continued. “So, when owners do an iris scan, scan the left and the right eye.” 

He also recommends taking a digital photo of the horse to pair with the iris scan identification. 

McInturff said the information is taken from the capture camera and put into a local database that he uses to help manage the horse’s medical records. 

“The iris scan has an accuracy greater than 99 percent, which is more accurate than a human fingerprint,” he noted.

While the technology is still relatively new, McInturff can see more uses for it in the future. 

“It could help the show industry manage a horse’s show records,” he said. “On a national level, this technology could be used for show officials and regulatory officials – the possibilities are endless.” 

As more cameras become available on the market, McInturff said this could become a very reliable way to identify horses, and information from the scan can be stored securely in a central database.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..