Animal identification workshop tonight

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In the next five years or so, a national system could track where every sheep, cow or horse has been.

Tonight, livestock producers have the chance to learn about voluntary efforts being made to implement such a system, which holds promise for stopping the spread of animal diseases and preventing bioterrorism.

"I think it's good for people to come hear what's being proposed," Routt County agri--cultural extension agent C.J. Mucklow said.

By working out the details through a voluntary system, it should be easier to deal with the system when it becomes mandatory, he said.

Colorado is one of three U.S. states, three tribes and two Mexican states involved in the effort to implement a voluntary identification system.

The first step in such a system is to register the ranches and farms that are home to traditional and exotic livestock. A Web site already exists to allow individual ranches and farms to register voluntarily.

The next step is finding a way to track each individual animal. That could mean, for example, that each animal has an ear tag with a chip holding information describing where the animal is from, Mucklow said. Such technologies might cost less than $1 per animal, or as much as $25 per animal, he said.

Problems arise when one herd of cattle grazes in several areas during a year, or when pieces of food animals are shipped to different places, or when current identification systems have to be integrated into the larger system.

"You can make it real complicated, real fast," Mucklow said.

An identification system would be most helpful to stop livestock diseases from spreading because the origin of diseased animals could be identified quickly. For that reason, it also would aid efforts against bioterrorism. Finally, some countries might require that livestock be in such a system before the animals could be exported, Mucklow said.

At tonight's meeting, Muck--low will discuss why the U.S. Department of Agriculture is moving toward a mandatory animal identification system; John Heller of the RMS company will discuss RMS's role as the private company holding voluntary premise information; and Dr. Jim Grady, a veterinarian with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service, will discuss the Colorado Department of Agriculture's role in animal identification.

The animal identification workshop is at 7 p.m. at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. Tagging systems will be demonstrated at a conference June 14 in Steam--boat.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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