State and local veterinarians are a vital connection in the lives of humans, animals, and the society at large. Working with cattle and other livestock carries a huge responsibility when it comes to matters of public health and the health and vitality of our animal population as well. Detailed record keeping and strict abidance with government reporting requirements are a must—in addition to delivering the animal care that ensures the health of our populations now and into the future.
During a recent livestock traceability strategy forum, I had the pleasure of meeting with many state vets and others in the industry who shared some interesting perspectives and needs. Today’s traceability requirements are becoming increasingly complex and that’s where technology like mobile data capture can play a key role. Let’s first look at the responsibilities of a state vet in a bit more detail.
The business of selling and shipping animals from one state to another is anything but simple. Before an animal can be transported, it must be certified healthy by a trained veterinarian. The vet checks each animal’s heart, lungs, eyes, legs and feet, intestinal sounds and manure, and teeth. When that’s all complete, the vet produces a health certificate.
Cattle must be vaccinated to protect them from potentially deadly diseases. Cows are safely restrained while the vet vaccinates, inserts ear tags (for identification), and performs other procedures to ensure the animal’s safety (whether for human consumption or simply to protect the cattle from diseases).
What is animal traceability and why does it matter?
As you might imagine, accurate record keeping is a chief concern of government agencies with responsibility for cattle and livestock—and therefore, a primary focus of the vets themselves. Cow-calf veterinarians and producers keep detailed records about every cow to monitor each animal’s health, and by extension the health of the entire herd.
Since many diseases that affect animals can spread to other animals or to people, the veterinarian must report any signs of those diseases immediately to state or federal veterinarians for further investigation. This ensures that food-producing cattle stay healthy and thus the milk and meat from them can be safely consumed by people. Animal traceability refers to the collection and documentation of this critical animal data. More broadly, it’s the ability to follow an item or a group of items—be it animal, plant, food product or ingredient—from one point in the supply chain to another, either backwards or forwards.
Animal traceability has been important for years but with the Mad Cow Disease scares of the early 2000s, a greater focus has evolved over the past 15+ years. Along with that focus has been a monumental shift in the advancement of mobile technology—making it easier than ever to document critical animal data and share it instantaneously with the people and agencies that need it to do their jobs. By enabling their use of tablets for mobile data collection, Mi-Corporation helped the USDA increase the number of cattle inspections it performs by more than a factor of eight.
What’s the role of mobile data capture in animal traceability?
At Mi-Corporation, we’ve got a big opportunity and an important responsibility in supporting our nation’s livestock safety and the public health. As I prepare to attend the United States Annual Health Association meeting this week, I plan to do a lot of learning but also share some of the important reasons that mobile data capture can support vets and government agencies in the important work they do. Mobile data capture software from Mi-Corporation supports the mission of state vets with the following:
- Offline data collection, including pre-population of data into mobile forms from databases, and the capability to store-and-forward the data when a connection becomes available
- Fast data collection
- Easy to use mobile data user interfaces
- Immediacy of data availability
- Error-free record keeping and reporting
State vets and their staffs acknowledged at the recent Livestock Traceability Strategy Forum that electronic record keeping is far superior to paper record keeping. Some states now require electronic submissions of health records by vets. What’s more, the USDA challenges state vets to meet traceability performance measures by conducting test traces. In the past, traces were performed by searching through boxes of paper files and calling other states for information.
Today’s technology allows accurate electronic recordkeeping and electronic searching. With mobile data capture software, records can be collected in the field, even while the user is disconnected from the network. More standardization is needed to make the process even more streamlined, but electronic traceability is here to stay. (An interesting side note – RFID tagging of animals is an enabler of Livestock Traceability. RFID tags such as those used by large retailers such as Amazon and Walmart and even on the feet of cross country runners can provide a unique, electronically readable tag for an animal.)
My grandfather started businesses that were the predecessor of Brown Packing Company of Gaffney, SC, a major beef processing company. I credit stories about him for inspiring my entrepreneurism. It is a blessing to be able to learn more about and contribute to keeping the beef supply safe in the United States.