Vet on Call: New cattle identity system promises radical changes to farms and insurance

Friday April 7 2017

Two men display the tag on a cow.

Two men display the tag on a cow. The tagging system will help Kenya’s dairy farmers to keep up-to-date records for breeding their animals and register the animals in the Kenya Studbook. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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Since January when I started writing this column, I have received many inquiries from farmers on how they can identify their cattle in a way that is unique.

I have also received queries from insurance companies that cover livestock because the existing identification methods tend to duplicate cattle identity.

In many cases, animals are given random numbers or names, which can be unique on a specific farm but can be repeated on another even in the vicinity or far away.

Identities can also be fraudulently interchanged among cattle or even substituted to give new ones.

Livestock identification was a hot topic at a meeting where a team of veterinary professionals met at Kipkechui village, Baraton in Nandi three weeks ago.

Our mission was to educate farmers on a new Livestock Identification and Traceability System (Lits). The system is an aid to farmers and the government to keep track of the cattle in the country.

Lits is a good way of identifying cattle and tracing their history over a lifetime.

It assigns each cow a unique identification number that the animal carries through its whole life. It is like our national identification system, with every one having a mandatory identity card and number.

When a cow changes hands, the identity remains but ownership is transferred, just like in a car log book.

Lits is a fairly new concept in Kenya but globally, it is a requirement for enhanced cattle breeding, disease control, trade and food safety.

Since a cow under the Lits programme has its whole history recorded and retrievable, it means that at any one point, the animal and its products can be traced back to the origin.

TRACE ORIGIN OF SICK ANIMALS

To better illustrate why identification is important, let us look at a case of detection of the deadly disease Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) at a slaughterhouse in Washington State in the US on December 23, 2003.

The cow was declared a suspect of BSE because it came from a herd whose origin was not clear. The disease was diagnosed in the laboratory, and that meant the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services had to work to identify and destroy all animals that had been in contact with the case and all cattle products that were associated with it and its contact cattle.

Using their Lits, the Americans were able to establish that the sick cow had come from Canada in the company of another 81 cattle on September 4, 2001. All the cows in contact were traced and destroyed.

Products that had been manufactured from the sick cow were traced and destroyed by the US Department of Health and Human Services within a record four days.

At the end of the trace back investigation on February 9, 2004, a total of 255 cattle associated with the sick cow were identified and destroyed in the interests of disease control and human food safety.

Back to Kenya, the Director of Veterinary Services in September 2016, under Legal Notice No.167 gazetted Kenya’s cattle identification coding system that will ensure that each animal has a unique identification number.

In the new coding system, ear tags on cattle should have a mark for the country, a county code number as it is in the Constitution and a serial number of up to eight digits to represent the number assigned to the animal in the county. The three sets of numbers give the cow a unique identification.

FETCH HIGH PRICES

Once the new system takes shape, cattle on the farm would have to be identified using the gazetted coding system.

Animal health service providers will assist farmers to achieve this form of identification as one cannot do it on his own.

The farmer would buy the appropriately coded ear tags through which data would be collected and put into a management system.

Access to the system would be by authorisation and the Director of Veterinary Services has the highest user access level.

This system will help Kenya’s dairy farmers to keep up-to-date records for breeding their animals and register the animals in the Kenya Studbook, which is managed by the Kenya Livestock Breeders Organisation (KLBO) based in Nakuru.

It keeps animal records for their breeding and production history and cattle maintained in the studbook fetch very high prices.

Therefore, Lits will further enable farmers to breed high quality pedigree cattle that will sell for high prices and produce more milk, thereby, increasing the farmers’ wealth.

Further, it will assist the county and national governments in planning and delivering animal health and production services to the farmers.

In pastoral areas, Lits will help the government in tackling cattle rustling while the farmers would have better access to markets for livestock and livestock products.