Source verification data? Check the tags

Phil Osborne
Livestock Specialist
WVU Extension Service

The ear tags your calves are sporting will soon reveal more history than just the sire and dam. Consider these tags your ticket to the new value added marketing system.

Emerging beef marketing alliances nationwide are attempting to change from commodity-style marketing, which is based on purchasing and selling on averages, to a value based system. Beef alliances operate under a grid or matrix system that assigns premiums or discounts based on individual animal quality. Producers pool together their resources to improve efficiency, product quality and increase profitability. More than forty beef alliances are operating today, and all are using a value based payment program.

All beef alliance or value based marketing programs are dependent on a system of accounting that allows for the collection and distribution of data. That requires a good source verification program that permits the flow of information from the producer through to the consumer. The introduction of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system to protect the safety of our food supply also requires identification and source verification.

The West Virginia Quality Assurance (QA) Feeder Calf Sale uses an identification program that allows for accountability of calves in each pool or load sold. Every calf within a pool is uniquely identified with an eartag in order to trace outstanding performance or potential problems back to the point of origination.

A number of the calf pools have begun to utilize source verification. The eartags allow the feedlots receiving the calves to be able to identify those with the WVQA Program. Without this information, the identity of a calf or marketing program many times is lost since the calves are often co-mingled with so many others.

The WV Quality Assurance tag is designed with the outline of the state, the program title and individual calf pool name on the back. The front is stamped with a unique number within the pool and a symbol often called the flying WV. The flying WV allows a quick identification of the calf as a product of the QA program and helps to distinguish these animals from the many other calves wearing yellow and white eartags. The flying WV is a patented trademark of West Virginia University, and WVU has granted the program permission to use it.

The color of the eartags indicate the QA health program followed. The yellow tags represent the Gold Program of vaccinated and weaned calves. The white tags represent the Silver Program prevaccinated calves.

The WV Quality Assurance eartag provides the buyer with some specific information. First, the animal can be traced to a specific pool and individual owner. The color of the tag identifies the health management program utilized. Each buyer can learn what vaccination products were used and when. Some pools are beginning to gather Expected Progeny Difference data on the sire of the calves.

Some feedlots are beginning to collect individual carcass data and are sharing this information with the producers in the pool. The data would have little value without a good ID and source verification system.

Other programs around the country are utilizing source verification systems as a means of exchanging information. The American Red Angus program is one of the first to have a certification program approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Virginia Cattlemen's, as well as many other states programs, use special tags for program accountability and promotion. Dave Nichols, a seedstock producer who sponsors the Nichols Genetics Feeder Sale, uses a bar-coded eartag. The National Cattlemen's Association even has appointed a group to study the possibility of a national cattle identification system.

The value of source verification is clear. As these programs develop, West Virginia beef producers should get ready to take advantage of this component of value based marketing.