Alta. producers put goat ID to the test

Producers testing the animal identification system see a reduction in paperwork

OLDS, Alta. — When Ben Hofer agreed to test traceability systems for his goat herd, the advantages in time management and better animal husbandry were obvious to him.

He and two other Alberta producers are testing animal identification systems to see which electronic tags, computer hardware and software are best suited to goats.

Hofer considers himself an early adopter, and after working on hog traceability at the Plainlakes Farming Co. near Two Hills, Alta., he considered it the right step forward for the goat sector.

Data and time management is a breeze now that every animal is connected to the system with a number on a radio frequency tag linked to a computer. The tag is attached to the animal, its number is scanned with a hand-held wand and whatever information he wants about the individual is entered into a computer rather than writing in a notebook.

“You have more time to spend with the animals rather than doing paperwork,” he said in an interview at the Alberta Goat Association’s annual meeting.

“Last year it took me an hour to tag 10 goats, and then it took me an hour and a half to enter the information into the computer,” he said.

“This year it took me an hour to do 10 goats and when I was done, I clicked the button and saw all the reports.”

He sells meat goats through provincial processing plants, and the finished product is sold into the ethnic market in Edmonton. He eventually wants carcass information from the packers to assess which goats are doing the best job.

The information attached to each tag is what provides the most value for him. He can match data from mothers to their kids to see which do the best job in bonding and nurturing their babies.

“Last year I had 50 bottle babies before I started doing anything,” he said.

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“This year I am down to 20 because I knew they were bad mothers, so why keep them around. Next year I hope to have none because I am making decisions that are solid culling decisions.”

Ear tags, tail tags and leg bands are under consideration.

He learned that leg banding works better for dairy goats but does not recommend them for meat goats because the tags do not stay on properly as they browse in pastures.

Linda Smith has made similar observations with her large goat herd, which she owns with her husband, Grant, at Bentley, Alta.

They are testing the BioTrack system, which provides equipment, software and technical support.

“Traceability is coming and we have to be a part of it,” she said.

Smith has always been a data collector and relied on paper records, but errors were common.

Every goat on their farm is tagged with two tags within 24 hours of life. One is a radio frequency tag and the other is for management purposes.

They immediately start to input data about weight, health treatments and vigour of the youngster as well as performance of the mother. The does receive udder scores and temperament assessments. If the kids must be bottle fed, that information is added because the doe will likely be culled.

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“How do I remember all the bottle babies’ mothers? I may not remember them if I don’t write them down,” she said.

Selling weight and dressing percentages from the slaughterhouse, if possible, are added.

The data is attached to the electronic tag number and is linked with Bluetooth to either an iPad or laptop. They have also connected their smartphones to the system to collect data and monitor every animal.

The information makes it easier to sort breeding replacements and make culling decisions.

“It allowed me to keep only the best of the best,” she said.

The Canadian goat industry has been working on a traceability system for seven years and wants a program that identifies individual animals, locates farms and tracks movement.

Testing of tags, computer programs and equipment continues, and an agreement is also likely to be made with the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency to house the data.

Full traceability can also help provide correct census numbers, said Laurie Fries, president of the Alberta association. Statistics Canada does not report goat numbers, and members want that information to further develop and improve the industry.

There was some resistance to a program early on, but more farmers are starting to see the advantages of a system that tracks animals and provides valuable production information.

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“We want to sell this on the benefits. We don’t want to do this be-cause we had a wreck,” Fries said.