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VIDEO: Livestock ID group eyes new technology to combat cattle theft

FARGO, N.D. —  New technology is likely to help prevent cattle theft in coming years, speakers at a recent event event said.

The International Livestock Identification Association held its annual conference July 17 to 20 in Fargo, N.D., hosted by the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

Among the main speakers was Lt. Blaine Northrop, supervisor of ag enforcement and brand inspection for the Nevada Department of Agriculture, oversees enforcement officers and 90 brand inspectors in the field. Northrop, who formerly worked with the  

North Dakota brand inspection, said his department is involved in the Bureau of Land Management/Cliven Bundy case, which occurred in Harney County, Ore. The case started with unpaid grazing fees in Nevada.

Northrop said law enforcement tools for the livestock industry are improving. In the past few years, the ILIA has created a website that allows for greater communication among agencies looking for lost and stolen livestock.

“If cattle are stolen in Oklahoma or in Texas, within minutes I know it in my office,” Northrop said.

In one ongoing case, about $30,000 worth of cattle were stolen in Elko County, Nev., but with the help of brand inspectors in Idaho, the herd was located in a pasture near Twin Falls, Idaho. They were all returned.

Cattlemen tend to turn out their cattle in the spring and bring them back in the fall, so if they’re missing it’s not immediately apparent, and the date of loss can be a mystery. They’re branded, but some are taken into the “no-brand” areas, such as eastern South Dakota or east of the Mississippi, don’t require brand inspections on cattle that are sold. “Possibly, they’re taken somewhere, rebranded, healed and peeled, and after a year or so, two years, people forget these cattle are missing. They can be sold through local markets.”

Chip technology

The cattle industry is looking at electronic identification, and states like Nevada have moved to an electronic brand inspection program. Inspectors can go into a neighboring state’s system and if the cattle have been inspected, and sometimes can read a truck license plate and know whether cattle they’ve been inspected.

“I don’t have to pull them over to look at the papers,” Northrop said.

One topic at the meeting was an ear chip that can be put on a cow that can be tied into a cell phone alert. If the cow moves outside the pasture where they are supposed to be, the rancher’s cell phone will ring.

“You’d better start calling the sheriff and find out what’s going on out there,” Northrop said. He said it’s conceivable that the chips will be developed for placement under the hide that would transmit constantly.

Conference-goers heard from Bob Huskey, assistant general merchandise manager for Costco Wholesale in Issaquah, Wash. Huskey is in charge of his company’s U.S. fresh beef and pork programs, and raw material procurement. Product traceability is important at Costco, which sells only U.S. Department of Agriculture prime and choice cuts and posted about $7 billion in global meat sales last year. The company is saturated on the West Coast and East Coast, but growing in the Midwest. It adds about 30 warehouses per year, including half in the U.S. and half in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada and Mexico.

Huskey said the company said if a packer called and said they had to recall rib eye steaks from a particular date, Huskey would has the ability to know what stores had the product, and often which members have purchased it.

One of the concerns for the beef industry is the average age of ranchers, which is in the 60s, Huskey said. “We need to make sure there is someone coming down the pike to carry that torch,” he said.

While the meat industry often feels attacked, Huskey said “consumers generally still believe farmers and processors do a good job.”

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