Cattle move around the country for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes ranchers will introduce new cattle to their herds to improve the herd’s overall genetics. Sometimes cattle are sent to different facilities — ranches, auction markets, feedyards and even processors — for specialized care during different phases of their lifecycles. With so much movement, cattle can be exposed to many different environments and fellow animals. Making sure they are healthy at every step is critical to ensuring their welfare as well as the safety of our food supply. To do that, it’s vital to be able to track them along the food chain.
U.S. CattleTrace is a national organization headquartered in Wamego, Kansas, devoted to developing an animal disease traceability program that would protect livestock wellbeing, the cattle industry and public health if a disease outbreak would occur. The program is essentially a contact tracing system that would assist state and federal animal health officials in tracking sick cattle and identifying other animals that might have been exposed to them more quickly and efficiently. Armed with this information, producers and animal health experts can take steps like sequestering and treating animals before they can impact the overall health of the herd or enter our food supply, mitigating the spread of a disease during an outbreak.
“There’s a need for animal disease traceability for cattle that are ultimately destined for our food supply,” said Callahan Grund, executive director, U.S. CattleTrace. “Similar to how we’re trying to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 by identifying places infected people have been, this system would mitigate the spread and risk of disease to prevent an outbreak among cattle.”
Cattle producers participating in the program can have their animals tagged with ultrahigh frequency (UHF) tags. Special readers are placed at points of commingling, like auction markets and feedyards. When a tagged animal passes a reader, the system records data such as the identification number, location, date and time — similar to how toll tags work.
If an infectious disease were to be identified in an animal, U.S. CattleTrace would be able to provide information directly to animal health officials, quickly pinpointing where that animal had been and which other animals it may have commingled with, so those animals could be quarantined, monitored and treated as necessary.
The information, which could be accessed by animal health officials, would help local producers and veterinarians contain potential outbreaks. Entities ranging from cattle tech companies to government agencies are also key stakeholders.
“There are multiple segments of the cattle industry involved. This approach and collaboration will hopefully make this system work for everybody within the industry,” Grund said.
Ensuring it works for producers is especially crucial.
“Cattle producers are really the ones making this system happen,” Grund said. “We’re uniquely positioned to develop a system that works for us and doesn’t impact our daily lives.”
The United States is one of the few developed countries that doesn’t have a traceability system in place. However, unlike other countries who developed systems after experiencing an outbreak, the United States is focused on getting a system in place before that happens. U.S. CattleTrace hopes to prevent such an outbreak altogether.
The seed for the program started in 2018 when Kansas introduced a two-year pilot program called CattleTrace to test the feasibility of such a system. As other states worked on their own pilot programs, they saw a need to combine efforts under a national umbrella.
“A key takeaway from our pilot program was that there’s a viable way to leverage this infrastructure across the United States. The system works not only for Kansas farmers and ranchers, but American farmers and ranchers,” Grund said.
Today, U.S. CattleTrace has 10 participating states — a number that continues to grow. Kansas, Texas, Florida and Kentucky all had pilot programs and are sharing their best practices as part of the newly formed organization.
Kansas was chosen as the headquarters in part because of its location in the Animal Health Corridor, a stretch along Interstate 70 from Manhattan, Kansas, to Columbia, Missouri, that houses the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world. This proximity enables better access to research, facilities and potential partners.
“Being within the Animal Health Corridor was really important to us. With proximity to the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) and other organizations with vested interest in animal disease traceability, it made sense for us to be here,” Grund said.
For more information or to inquire about partnering with U.S. CattleTrace, visit their website. To learn more about opportunities for private industry to locate near U.S. CattleTrace along the Animal Health Corridor, please contact the Greater Manhattan Economic Partnership.