Wichita Some Kansas ranchers believe calves bearing electronic-identification ear tags are selling for more than untagged calves, and they think those prices will rise.
The tags allow people to trace an animal to the ranch where it was born.
"There has been a lot of interest in these calves," said Chris Locke, who with Steve Hamlin owns El Dorado Livestock Auction, where a special consignment of tagged calves from ranches within a 50- to 60-mile radius will be sold Dec. 8 - the third and final such consignment this year. "I think they have the opportunity to bring a better price."
Butler County rancher Jeff Sowder said his tagged calves brought between $2 and $4 more per hundredweight than untagged calves in the October sale.
He and Locke both believe prices will go up.
For now, ranchers do not have to participate in an animal-identification system. But the government hopes to implement a mandatory national system by 2009. It was proposed in response to the December 2003 discovery of mad cow disease in a Washington state dairy cow.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., meanwhile, is developing its own tracking system, with which most ranch-based systems will eventually be able to communicate, according to Allen Bright, animal ID coordinator with the association. Bright said that system was expected to be running by January.
"If there is ever a problem with an animal down the line, we can make information available to the agency that needs it," Bright said. "We feel sure that source verification is going to become more and more important as we go down the road."
A tracking system is expected to be key in persuading Japan to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports. The ban has been in place since the first case of mad cow was found in the United States. Japan, which had been the largest overseas market for U.S. beef, bought more than $1 billion worth in 2003.
"You are going to have to have source verification to provide birth-date information," Bright said. "To get into the Japanese market, you have to meet those criteria.
"Will there be a payback? The answer will be in the marketplace."