North Dakota branding laws upheld for imported cattle

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota Board of Animal Health members voted down a request by a 4-3 margin to end the branding of imported registered dairy cattle.

(Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota Board of Animal Health members voted down a request by a 4-3 margin to end the branding of imported registered dairy cattle.

In an effort to stop the spread of diseases, such as mad cow, Canadian cattle imported into North Dakota are required to be branded with the letters "CAN."

The North Dakota Holstein Association had hoped to end that practice in favor of other forms of identification because members say it lowers their animals' show and sale value, which is based on appearances.

"Instead of the judge looking at the animal, they're looking at the brand," said Holstein Association member Sue Kleingartner.

The cows have other markers, such as a radio-frequency identification tag, ear tattoos and registration papers indicating their country of origin.


The board denied the request by a 4-3 vote because it felt the brand is unalterable and more easily visible.

"It's not a perfect world," said board member Morgan Dallman, referring to tags falling out and tattoos being unreadable.

CAN brands are required in nine states, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Iowa. Nebraska, South Dakota and Nevada have exemptions for registered animals.

With another expected case of mad cow disease found in Alberta, Canada, earlier this year, North Dakota was reluctant to change its requirements to match the 41 states not requiring the brand. The last time a mad cow-infected animal was found in a Washington slaughterhouse, it took finding the hide with the brand to identify it as Canadian-raised.

"It's our job to protect North Dakota," said board member Joel Olson. "It's not our job to protect the other 41 states."

Board member Gerald Kitto said he understands the show ring concerns. However, he and other board members raised the point that even dairy cattle are eventually slaughtered.

"With beef being beef, just the tattoo is not going to cut it," said board member Kristi Doll.

The board did make some allowances for Sue Kleingartner and her husband.


The Kleingartners had purchased an unbranded Canadian Guernsey cow with a clean bill of health at a sale in Wisconsin. Those running the show had announced that all of the cattle shown were cleared for interstate transport. Upon purchasing the cow, the Kleingartners were also issued a North Dakota import permit.

State Veterinarian Susan Keller said the Wisconsin sale veterinarian admitted that he had made the choice not to brand the animal because he thought his staff was incorrect about the North Dakota brand requirement. Staff had called earlier to ask about requirements but, when they called back for a permit number, there was no mention of the Canadian origin of Kleingartners' cows.

The Board of Animal Health voted to put the Kleingartners' cows on permanent quarantine with exceptions made for travel. In exchange for not branding the cow, the Kleingartners' must call the state vet each time they move it off the farm. If the cow goes to slaughter, it must be branded first.

Keller said her office is having conversations to make sure the Canadian-origin question is asked of all vets calling for a permit number to prevent a similar situation in the future.

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