New Kansas Initiative Looks To Track Cattle Diseases

Jul 10, 2018

Kansas is taking the lead on a project aimed at tracking cattle disease with the hopes of protecting the U.S. beef industry.

Cattle Trace is a public-private partnership that will develop infrastructure to try out a disease-tracking system. It was announced late last month in Ellinwood, Kansas, by Gov. Jeff Colyer, Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey and Kansas livestock industry officials.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer (left) addresses the crowd at Barton County Feeders about the Cattle Trace pilot project.
Credit Angie Haflich / High Plains Public Radio

"Kansas is home to the finest beef producers and operations in the nation,” Colyer said June 30. “We are proud that the Kansas beef industry has taken the lead in this important project that will enhance our ability to protect cattle health here and across the nation.”

According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, tracing cattle disease is key for biosecurity of the U.S. beef cattle industry, which has about 94 million head and tens of billions of dollars. Plus, Kansas is the site of the National Bio-and Agro-defense Facility, which is being constructed on the Kansas State University campus and is expected to open by 2022.

Quickly identifying and locating at risk-cattle will be paramount in minimizing damage to the cattle industry as a whole, said Brandon Depenbusch, who is vice president of cattle operations for Innovative Livestock Services and a member of the Cattle Trace steering committee.

“We have the opportunity to develop a cattle disease traceability system on our terms. The capabilities of Cattle Trace will enable us to do the right thing for animal health and biosecurity, and for the entire U.S. beef cattle industry,” Depenbusch said.

Another important part of the Cattle Trace program is to build infrastructure that allows the industry to communicate data easily and effectively, according to K-State’s Beef Cattle Institute Director Brad White.

He said that infrastructure will first involve tagging calves and collecting data to determine which calf is sick and where it’s located. And the third objective is to ensure that the project works for all segments of the industry, such as cow-calf operations, auction markets, feedlots and packers.

Cattle Trace will begin enrolling cattle this fall and that the goal is to tag 55,000 calves, White said. At least 10 feed yards, as well as cow-calf ranches and beef processors will participate in the pilot project.

But for the U.S. beef industry to adopt the system on a broader scale, it will need to be simple, fast and affordable.

The Cattle Trace steering committee, from left to right: Kansas Livestock Association CEO Matt Teagarden; animal health commissioner Brandon Depenbusch; Jackie McClaskey with Innovation Livestock Services; Kansas Department of Agriculture assistant secretary Mary Soukup; Cattle Trace project director Cassandra Kniebel; Kansas State Beef Cattle Institute director Brad White; Gov. Jeff Colyer.
Credit Angie Haflich / High Plains Public Radio

“We are working to build a system to test today and one that will serve the U.S. beef cattle industry in the future,” he said.

Cattle Trace is a collaborative partnership between Kansas State University, the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture and individual producer stakeholders.  

Angie Haflich is the director of regional content at High Plains Public Radio, based in Garden City, Kansas.