Livestock Inspectors Use Technology to Track Equine Movement

Wearing Wranglers and sporting a cowboy hat and boots, Buddy Eby doesn't look like your typical computer geek.

But seeing him in his truck, with a small notebook PC on his lap, digital camera at his side, and inkjet printer in the passenger seat, one could easily be confused. Eby, a New Mexico livestock inspector, is using cutting-edge technology to track and identify horses and other livestock throughout Grant County.

He was in Arenas Valley recently, where veterinarian John Wenzel was implanting microchips into horses. Under a program sponsored by the New Mexico Livestock Board, owners can have the chips inserted into their animals for identification. The owner pays $5 in vet fees and $30 for a permit, and the livestock board furnishes the chips.

According to Dr. Dave Fly, deputy state veterinarian, livestock identification and movement control are becoming issues nationally and internationally.

"Most major producing countries have a national animal ID program," Fly said. "Canada and Australia have it, and Mexico has a really good program. We are a country that maybe hasn't quite stepped up to the plate on that issue."

Where the United States has fallen behind, he said, New Mexico has taken the lead.

"In New Mexico, we've had in force for many years a really comprehensive animal identification and movement control program," Fly said. "That's been in place since the 1880s, and New Mexico has preserved that."

With homeland security a constant concern in the 21st century, Fly said, New Mexico, as a border state, is taking special notice.

Fly said New Mexico lawmakers appropriated $840,000 to improve the program and work was started in July to modernize inspection and movement control.

"So, all of our inspectors around the state have an automated tracking system now," Fly said. "When they go out to look at livestock, they can report where they are and where they're going, and it is automatically uploaded to a database.

"We can inform other states and other inspectors around New Mexico what's happening."

This week, Wenzel inserted microchips into two of his horses, Badger and Booger. The chips, each about the size of a grain of rice, are inserted by syringe into tissue above the animal's neck.

"The reason we should be doing this is because it's positive identification which can't be altered," Wenzel said. "You know, a brand is good, but New Mexico is one of the few states that has a branding law that's enforced. The microchip is positive identification that will work anywhere in the country."

The chips can come in handy if a horse is stolen or lost, and they're also helpful for those who travel with their horses, Fly said.

The microchip information is read with a handheld wand that displays the 15-digit identification number and, with some chips, the horse's core temperature. The ID number is recorded on a livestock board transport permit. Fly said the process for issuing such permits is automated as well.

"It's a permanent hauling card, which allows people to transport their horse throughout the state without having to get an inspection in each district," he said.

Eby photographs a horse's face and sides, brands or other markings. He then enters the chip ID number, along with the horse's breed, gender and name, into a laptop. That information, along with the photos and information about the owner, is the basis for a Livestock Board transportation permit.

Five minutes after a microchip is implanted, Eby can give a printed copy of the record, signed and sealed, to the owner.

"The information is updated to a database once a week," he said.

The Livestock Board wants to get chips into as many horses as possible, Fly said.

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The Associated Press

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