Traceability: beyond the tag

Any farmer who thinks that a tag in the ear represents a traceability system for a beef herd is far off the mark; it simply links the animal to a production unit.

A farm or feedlot should have good management practices across the entire production system, according to an article by Dr Danie Odendaal, a veterinary herd health consultant and director of Veterinarian Network in the monthly report of Ruminant Veterinary Association of South Africa (RuVASA).

Traceability involves more than simply identifying animals and keeping track of a particular livestock unit throughout the value chain. It entails a complete herd management system that includes the sustainable use of natural resources; a programme to ensure the health, welfare and safety of the animals and animal products produced and sold; animal recording and breeding according to genetic potential for optimal production under given environmental conditions; and sound record-keeping to prove compliance with good management practices.

Dr Odendaal was provided with the ideal opportunity to put these guidelines into practice when asked in 2018 by Tommie van Zyl, CEO of ZZ2, to develop and implement such a comprehensive system for its beef cattle division. The following became clear after he successfully conducted the project:

Production periods

To use all-natural resources optimally, a strictly controlled breeding policy must be implemented. Controlled breeding is used to ensure that cows calve within a short period for the most effective utilisation of natural grazing. Synchronising the cows’ highest nutritional needs with the period of highest nutritional availability, together with an effective grazing plan, are the most important management goals for profitable cattle farming. Controlled breeding also assists with implementing herd health and production management actions at specific times of the year. This entails implementing a 12-month production cycle for breeding females and other animals in the herd that is divided into four production periods, each with its own critical control points. Each of these, in turn, has a subset of management actions pertaining to it that must be executed and recorded according to a checklist.

Health and safety

When implementing a livestock identification and traceability system, it is crucial to have specific outcomes in mind. Selling healthy animals is the most important aspect of the system.

Traceability entails a complete herd management system

With the challenge of foot-and-mouth disease, it is also essential to implement a daily observation card, which must be used to record the first signs of such a disease, but also serve to identify other diseases at an early stage

Good records to prove compliance

It takes much time and effort to put in place all the components of good management practices, such as natural resource management and a biosecurity and herd health management. To be worth it, these actions must benefit the farming enterprise. In this case, the implementation of an animal identification and traceability system should give the farmer better or differentiated access to the market or result in a price premium.