Horse Smart Card in the Works

The horse industry in Colorado is instituting an Equine Smart Card identification program that will meet National Animal Identification System (NAIS) standards. NAIS is a national program being developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state agencies intended to identify specific animals in the United States, record their movements over their lifespans, and enable 48-hour traceback of the movements of any diseased or exposed animal. Carl Heckendorf, DVM, director of livestock disease and animal health for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, explained Colorado’s Equine Smart Card program in Colorado at the National Institute of Animal Agriculture’s annual meeting April 3-7 in St. Paul, Minn.

"Colorado is a brand state; many of the horses already have brand cards," began Heckendorf. "But a brand shows ownership, while a microchip will show identification." A brand is also unique to a premises, not a horse, and in the event of a disease outbreak, it is difficult to track a single horse based on a brand that could be on many horses scattered throughout the state and country.

"The Equine Smart Card will include health information, brand information, and material that can be updated more frequently such as health certificates," said Heckendorf. "We’ll also incorporate RFID (radio frequency identification technology) methods with ISO standards (International Standards Organization; under the NAIS, all microchips must be compliant with these standards). We are looking at possibly integrating it with biometrics (digital iris scans) as well as DNA identification measures.

"The card will be read when there is a change of ownership, interstate movement, and movement within the state over 75 miles," said Heckendorf. These situations already require brand inspections, so the horse owner will not be required to wait for additional involvement by government officials. "When the horse is chipped, that horse will be tied to a premises, and that premises will have GPS (global positioning satellite) coordinates. The coordinates will be noted each time the card is read at a readable premises (such as a horse event) to aid in tracking."

The price of the card has not yet been decided, and whether the state, horse owner, or both will pick up the cost isn’t clear. "Depending on how smart the card is depends on how much it will cost," noted Heckendorf. The cost of the card will increase as the amount of information that is included on it increases.

"I don’t think the smart card will cost more than what we are doing already," said Heckendorf. "The Equine Smart Card should be priced in the area of a permanent brand card (around $30), although this is not final."

Heckendorf said the purpose of implementing this program is not profit. "It is important for us to make the Equine Smart Card as cost effective as possible to ensure people will use it," he commented.

He stressed the need of getting the Equine Smart Card in place as soon as possible. "With the VS (vesicular stomatitis) outbreak, you can found out where horses had been to develop a plan of action and quarantine procedures," commented Heckendorf, referring to the VS outbreaks in Colorado in 2004. If Equine Smart Cards had been available at that time, the outbreak might not have been as severe.

The Equine Smart Card will also help track movement of horses in and out of Mexico, he said. This can help prevent disease outbreak, as well as curb horse theft or any other illegal activities involving horses. Heckendorf said Colorado officials are looking at coordinating the Equine Smart Card with Canada and the rest of the United States.

The Smart Card will be read with computers and wireless technology, with the information stored in an Internet database available for veterinarians, government inspectors, breed registries, and horse owners to make any changes necessary to keep the horse’s information as current as possible. Each individual will have limited access to the database and only be able to change information in certain categories to keep privacy and security at a maximum, Heckendorf noted.

RMS, Research Management Systems USA in Fort Collins, Colo., will manage the database. The organization developed the LivestockTrust Livestock Identification and Tracking System, which is going to be used by animal producers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, plus the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora, and by members of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, and Ute Mountain Tribe as part of the Tri-National Livestock Health and Identification Consortium.

Heckendorf said town hall meetings are being used to get feedback from horse owners about the Equine Smart Card project, and the project should begin in earnest within the next month (May). A traceability exercise will also be conducted in the coming months to determine if the NAIS 48-hour standard can be achieved.

"We are hoping to identify approximately 1,000 horses from multiple groups--rodeo, 4-H, trail riders, and show horses. We are also looking to work with various breed registries and horse groups in order to participate in the test pilot," he said.

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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