Electronic Animal Health Record System Aims to Improve Management, Give Producers Marketing Edge

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Most Michigan livestock move through a number of operations and have several owners before arriving at their final destination. Mandatory radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on cattle allow animals to be traced back to their farm of origin. MAES researcher Dan Grooms wondered if the tags could be used to transport other kinds of information, such as an animal’s health records.

“Medical records help producers make better decisions,” Grooms said. “But because livestock move through many operations, an owner may have no knowledge of an animal’s health history.” An associate professor of large animal clinical sciences and a veterinarian, Grooms also heads up MSU‘s role in Vet Net, the Michigan Emergency Veterinary Network.

Using a $75,000 grant from the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, Grooms is heading a partnership of MSU scientists, private industry and the Michigan Department of Agriculture on a 3-year project to develop an easy-to-use, portable, electronic bovine medical record system.

Grooms envisions a system that will allow health information to be collected anywhere along the bovine production chain via laptop or handheld computer. The information would then be uploaded to a central database and could be viewed by anyone with access rights.

“Our goal is to demonstrate the feasibility of this type of system,” Grooms explained. “This is a pilot project. We’re going to demonstrate how the information can be collected and could flow and be used to make better management decisions.”

The scientists will test the pilot system on two groups of cattle. MSU-owned cattle born at the Lake City Experiment Station and then moved to the on-campus Beef Teaching and Research Center are one group of about 200 cattle. Green Meadows Farms, Inc., a large dairy operation in Elsie, is allowing the researchers to upload the health records of bull calves born at the dairy—about 1,500, Grooms estimated. The bull calves move from the dairy to a calf raiser operation to a feedlot.

Pardalis, Inc., an Oklahoma-based information technology company, is developing the database.

“Producers initially will have to enter more data,” Grooms said, “but I think down the road this could be a marketing advantage for Michigan cattle. I could see processors wanting to have the health information of cattle before slaughter and offering to pay a premium for that information. Michigan is the only state right now that has mandatory RFID tags on cattle, and we’re trying to help producers take advantage of that and set our cattle apart from the others.”

Once developed, the system also could help protect food safety and quality.

“Having a system that keeps records of all health events in the life of a food-producing animal gives us an opportunity to intervene if we identify issues that are potentially harmful to food safety and quality,” Groom explained.

Others working on the project are Dan Buskirk, MAES animal science researcher; Kenny Wells, animal science outreach specialist; Ken Metz, Beef Teaching and Research Center farm manager; Lou Neuder, associate professor of large animal clinical sciences; Glynn Tonsor, MAES agricultural, food and resource economics researcher; Steve Holcomb, Pardalis, Inc., founder and CEO; and Kevin Kirk, Michigan Department of Agriculture electronic identification coordinator.

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