Cattle producers can prepare for reopening of Japanese market

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – Talks between the United States and Japan about the reopening of Japan’s market to U.S. beef have indicated that cattle will have to be 20 months of age or younger to be eligible for export to Japan, said a Kansas State University animal scientist.
Japan, a leading buyer of U.S. beef in recent years, halted imports after a cow in Washington state tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) at the end of 2003.
It’s not clear when that market might reopen, but beef specialist Dale Blasi said that producers can take a proactive approach starting with this spring’s calving season in readying their animals – and their records – for the Japanese market.
The approach, he said, can be considered a “born-on” label approach.
Recommendation. “With the spring calving season quickly approaching, I would recommend that each calf be individually identified with a visual dangle ear tag unless the cow/calf producer’s customer (such as a sale barn or feedlot) specifically requires an electronic RFID (radio frequency identification system) tag,” said Blasi, who has helped lead the industry charge in developing these systems.
“Ideally, all calves should be tagged shortly after birth,” the animal scientist said, noting, however, that in most commercial operations that may not be practical.
Grouping. For that reason, he suggested that producers tag animals in groups.
Calves born in the first half of the calving season can be tagged with a different colored tag than those born in the latter half of the season.
“If cattle are identified as a group, then the group’s representative age will be based on the age of the oldest animal in that group,” Blasi said.
“For example, if a producer has a group of steer calves whose birth dates range from Jan. 15 through April 25, the age of that particular group of calves will be Jan. 15 unless the age of each individual animal in the group is known and the animals are individually identified.”
Marketing opportunity. “This will take added labor and time, but this proactive action may give producers more marketing opportunities as weaning time approaches,” he said.
“Many people believe that premiums will be paid to producers who meet the yet-to-be-officially-announced standards for beef exports to Asia.”
Blasi said that packers are likely to require producers to fill out a source verification affidavit which will contain the signature of a manager or owner, the physical mailing address and the age (month and year) of the particular group of cattle being presented for sale.
The affidavit will transfer with the group of cattle each time it is marketed and will gather the signature and address of each operation that controls the animals until they are harvested.
Quality assessment. This “chain of ownership” documentation will ensure that the packer has the capability to demonstrate compliance with a Quality System Assessment Program.
Such programs are being developed by packers in anticipation of the re-opening of the Japanese beef market, he said.
“The implications of the new development in beef cattle production will have far-reaching effects in terms of how producers may choose to package and market their animals,” he said.
“In essence, we are seeing the emergence of a ‘born-on’ label, which will be used as a gold standard for those operations who are either large enough to package sizable groups to market or for those producers who possess meticulous record-keeping capabilities.
“As the 2005 spring calving season draws closer, cow/calf producers intent on representing their calves as ‘Japan-eligible’ should begin to consider how they might identify their calves.”
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How to do ‘born-on’tagging
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Given the way talks between the United States and Japan are shaping up in regard to a reopening of Japan’s borders to U.S. beef imports, K-State Research and Extension animal scientist Dale Blasi believes that producers would do well to develop a “born-on” date labeling system.
Steps. Such a system would work like this, Blasi said:
Assume the first calf born for the 2005 spring calf crop was observed by the producer on Jan. 10.
Adding approximately 50 days to this date will help a producer arrive at a rough time frame when approximately 50 percent of the calves will be born. (Studies have shown that the average cow breeding season is 111 days long and that 68 percent of the calves from herds surveyed were born in the first 63 days of the calving season.)
Gather and tag these calves with a particular color of dangle ear tag and record the date the first calf was observed on a calendar with an ink pen.
Unless a producer is able to differentiate the birth date for each calf, then this date (Jan. 10) will become the “early group’s” group age.
When getting ready to move the cow/calf pairs to summer grass and when all calves are normally branded and receive their shots, identify the remaining late-born calves with a different-colored ear tag from the first group.
This processing date will become the latter-born group’s “born-on” date.
Blasi said there will likely be younger calves included in the second group, but that it’s important to realize that many producers will not be willing or able to gather their calves on a routine basis during the calving season to identify those calves.

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