In general, electronic data systems are highly used within the various animal production industries. But, there is little standardization of systems, formats, and the type of data captured within or between the different industries. These differences arise because the various systems have different objectives. However, all basically capture information on the general health and productive performance of farm animals. Commercial producers are generally reluctant to release their data for use by third parties, which is likely to present a major barrier to the development of systems for aggregating data for the purpose of monitoring health and disease within the total farmed animal population.
Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in understanding where their food comes from, the production system and methods used (e.g., organic), and the likely quality of the product. This interest is providing stimulus within the food animal systems for the development of electronic lifetime identification systems and centralized databases. Electronic individual animal data systems require the use of unique and electronic animal identification (usually an ear tag). The technologies, such as electronic tags, readers, automatic drafting systems, and databases, already exist. These systems theoretically allow a consumer in a supermarket to scan a bar code and obtain production information on the foodstuff. Similarly, these systems have potential use for feed contamination investigations, providing a trace-back capability to investigators. The European Union is moving toward full electronic identification systems through the cattle passport system (http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tracing/cattle/passport/pport -index.htm). Australia is rolling out the National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS), which uses electronic ear tags and a central database (http://www.mla.com.au/content. cfm?sid=131). These pressures are leading to increased commitment from individual animal industries within the United States to adopt the NAIS.
Data collection at the farm level emphasizes aggregate and statistical reporting. Beef cows, pigs, and poultry are not assigned individual health records. Although there has been some use of individual records on a trial basis, the benefits from individual animal management are not yet apparent. However, it is likely that individual animal systems similar to those currently in place within the dairy industry will develop in beef cattle production systems in the future. The increased uptake of NAIS will encourage development of individual animal production systems. As ranchers become aware of the natural variation in individual growth rates and the impact that these have on individual animal profitability, then production systems will evolve toward the management of the individual animal. Currently, an ear tag identifies most animals, but the identification system is not electronic or national—the numbers have relevance to the producer only. Animals that move between farms often have their original tags removed, and a replacement identification with meaning to the new owner is applied (Figure 7.2).
The information collected by beef feedlots about the animals they raise can vary. A few track each animal individually, collecting data on weight, temperature, feeding, and history of illnesses and treatment. Others will collect this information on a pen or consignment level. Dairy farming relies on individual animal production monitoring. Data capture, centralization, and processing systems allow producers to measure production, regulate feeding, and monitor health and reproduction.
Sophisticated systems are present in the chicken and swine industries. Often these are client-server systems developed to integrate data from multiple production units within an enterprise. These systems can contain comprehensive benchmarking and statistical process control tools provided to allow early identification of less productive units or farms and to monitor improvements in performance. These systems are well suited for monitoring the health of the animal population. However, there are many competing computerized systems, and these have varying data formats and standards. This reduces the ability of the systems to provide data to a single centralized database for the purpose of disease surveillance.
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