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From the July 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen


Ninety-eight per cent retention of ID tags on calves and yearlings

You can realistically expect more than 98 per cent of your approved radio frequency identification tags to remain on your calves or yearlings when you ship them, no matter your production system, geography or the weather, assuming they were properly attached.

That’s the preliminary finding of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency’s (CCIA) RFID tag retention project.

But the cows’ ears could be a different story, says Ross Macdonald of 98 Ranch near Lake Alma, Sask., who is leading the project under contract with the CCIA.

Macdonald with Marty Kratochvil of the federal community pasture program, the initial co-operator on this project, and Krystal Savenkoff of the Western Beef Development Centre tagged approximately 6,000 head, 3,600 of them calves, in 18 herds from British Columbia to Ontario. This was done to ensure consistency of application and to be sure the tag were applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Most of the calves were tagged at spring branding or processing in 2012 and most of the cows at preg-check time that fall.

An equal number of the seven approved CCIA tags and one Quebec-approved tag were used at each test site. All the tags were scanned before they were applied to be sure they were functional. Far less than one per cent of the tags were duds.

The 18 herds range in size from 76 to 535 head and were selected by their location and setup to be representative of the differing geography, climate and farming styles across the country.

The producers scan the tags with hand-held readers once a year as dictated by their normal management so the exact time of the scanning varies from farm to farm.

Tag retention in calves was similar across herds and all models, averaging 98.9 per cent after 18 months. The small variation in retention between calves sold in fall and those sold as long yearlings suggests very few tags were lost over the winter.

The cows as well as heifers tagged as calves and retained for breeding will be scanned again this year and in 2015. Some were hoping they could follow the cows for 10 years, but Macdonald says the original schedule calls for a final report on all the data to be completed in the spring of 2016.

So far, tag retention does seem to be more variable in mature cows than in the calves, however, more scanning and statistical analysis will be needed to gain a clear picture, Macdonald says.

The team’s initial observations indicate scanning during cold weather significantly reduced the battery life of hand-held readers and the pin in the tag applicator tended to break more easily. When working in the cold it would seem to make sense to have extra pins handy and, if possible, a second reader to switch out as needed.

Macdonald also advises producers to ignore retailers who try to talk you into buying the most popular applicator. Get the one designed for the tags you have purchased. If you prefer a different applicator then buy the tags designed to go with that device.

They also found the clearance of the plier head on all applicators was something of an issue when tagging cows with hairy ears.

All of these practical observations on the equipment, climate and working conditions will be included with the statistical analysis in the final report.

The purpose of this project is to collect baseline data on tag retention and readability to serve as the foundation for further study, to identify tag retention problems, and make recommendations to improve tag retention and readability.


SSGA sets busy agenda

Putting a reward in place to deter cattle thieves, seeing a producer assurance fund off to a good start, and dealing with species at risk will add to the workload for the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association as it mops up important files of the past couple of years, says president Doug Gillespie of Neville, Sask., who took over from Harold Martens of Swift Current at the SSGA’s recent annual meeting.

The SSGA will strike a committee to follow up on a resolution calling for a reward fund offering up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people stealing livestock from an SSGA member.

Deepening discontent over the ramifications of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the related emergency protection order (EPO) for greater sage grouse were expressed numerous times by ranchers during presentations by government officials, including Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart.

David Ingstrup, a regional director with Environment Canada’s wildlife services branch, attempted to address some of the misconceptions surrounding prohibitions and exemptions under the EPO. He says the intent which is to address imminent risks, differs from a recovery strategy aimed at rebuilding the population in the long term. Recovery plans are not set in regulation and don’t involve prohibitions.

The final EPO requirements to be published sometime this summer, will not apply to private lands, grazing pastures on federal and provincial land leases. The designated areas around breeding, nesting, brooding and wintering habitats won’t be expanded, and there are specific exemptions for activities related to public safety, existing residences, buildings, structures, and machines use in agricultural operations.

In a Q and A session SSGA members pointed out the EPO and recovery measures are aimed at ranchers, however, with no consideration given to controlling natural predators of the grouse such as skunks and snakes, whose populations have increased significantly since the 1980s when the greater sage grouse population was at a peak. West Nile virus has also taken a big toll on the bird’s numbers.

SARA allows for compensation when measures have an extraordinary impact, however, there has never been a regulation put in place to provide for payments. That said, the act doesn’t rule out the introduction of incentives and there may be a way to work that concept into some of the new programs Environment Canada is bringing online. There is a possibility that the national conservation action plan announced in May will facilitate another layer of stewardship initiatives without the usual cost-share requirement.

At the end of the day, members resolved to lobby the federal minister of environment to delay the EPO until some meaningful consultation had been carried out with the ranching community. The association will also press both levels of government to enact sections of SARA supporting voluntary conservation agreements that offer full financial compensation so species-at-risk habitat becomes an asset for ranchers rather than a liability.

Two other files that have been in transition from public to industry hands are the provincial brand inspection service and federal community pasture program.

The new Livestock Services of Saskatchewan (LSS) is up and running as a non-profit corporation that delivers brand inspection services, maintains the brand registry and licenses livestock dealers in Saskatchewan. Cam Wilk, a former provincial manager of field services for the government’s livestock branch was appointed as the first CEO of the LSS in April.

Meanwhile the transition of the pasture program is proceeding much more smoothly now that the issues identified by patrons have been ironed out thanks in some part to the ongoing support of ministry of agriculture specialists.

The work of the SSGA on these files is made possible by the willingness of the association’s directors to cover their own expenses when they travel on behalf of the association. The stock growers’ core operating funds come mainly from memberships, fundraising, donations, and contract income. Over the past two years, the association has realized a combined surplus of approximately $100,000, however, nobody takes that for granted in light of rising costs if they are to represent their members’ interests on an ever-growing list of issues facing the industry.

One of Gillespie’s priorities for this year will be to encourage every member to sell one new membership, thereby doubling the membership base.

“Everyone knows someone who should have a membership, whether they have cows or not. We have associate memberships for anyone with an interest at any level in the beef industry, even if it’s just that they like eating beef.”

Gillespie runs a cow-calf operation with his wife Colleen and has been an SSGA member since 1980, but became more involved in the association during the BSE crisis in 2003. He was first elected to the board of directors six years ago.


Burgess family wins Saskatchewan environmental award 

June 11 was a tree-planting day for Michael and Tamela Burgess, who have a tradition of planting a tree in their yard for every family milestone. This particular tree at Circle Y Ranch near Big Muddy, Sask., will be a reminder of receiving the environmental stewardship award (TESA) in Saskatchewan in 2014.

“It’s not as much about the intricacies of the cross-fencing or the water development or the exact timing frame of their grazing plan. It’s the generational commitment of the Burgess family that has stewarded the ranch through three and four generations, that makes the family such deserving recipients of this award,” says Ross Macdonald of nearby Lake Alma, Sask., who made the presentation at the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association’s convention.

Michael’s grandfather established the ranch in 1937 and his parents, Edward and Ferne, made the permanent move out west 10 years later. Under Michael and Tamela the ranch has transitioned from a yearling operation to cow-calf. Their children, Lane and Britt, are now actively involved in the operation while their eldest daughter Tiffany lives with her family in Alberta.

The diverse topography across the range in the Big Muddy Valley “badlands” next to the U.S. border is the stuff of western movie sets but it’s the healthy, functioning ecosystems in the background that really tell the family’s stewardship story.

“This ranch has it all,” Macdonald says. “They manage their resource to maintain abundant forage throughout the year, and wouldn’t you know it, wildlife flourishes, too.”

This wouldn’t be possible on the fragile brown soils without years of well-managed grazing. More details are available on the family’s website.

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