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A passport for your horse

Horse owners who take their horses to shows or travel long distances to trail ride are used to gathering all the necessary paperwork before they hit the road, including current Coggins test results, ownership papers and state health inspections. Sometime in the next few years, all you will probably need to take with you will be a “smart card” with the above information (and more) embedded in a chip on the card.In April 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its support for a National Animal Identification System. The program is intended to identify livestock animals and record their movements. Originally initiated by livestock producers concerned about protecting their industry from outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease, the national system is fully supported by the USDA and Congress and is in its introductory phases.The program’s primary purpose is to stop the spread of disease. If an animal tests positive, the goal is to trace the animal’s movement back to its herd of origin in 48 hours. The USDA hopes to have all premises registered and 90 percent of all animals (including horses) electronically identified by January 2008.Although the NAIS does not currently have an equine component, the idea of a national ID program for horses has been discussed by the equine industry for years. At a recent meeting of the Colorado State Horse Council Advisory Committee in Colorado Springs, Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council (AHC), updated members on the implications of NAIS for horse owners.”A national ID program is needed for animal health reasons, to maintain commerce, and to facilitate the export and import of livestock,” Hickey said. “But this program is one of the most complicated undertakings the livestock industry has every faced. Right now, there are many more questions than there are answers.”Colorado ranks ninth in the nation for the number of horse owners, and horses represent a $1.6 billion industry in the state. A national ID program will not only help control the spread of infectious diseases, such as West Nile and vesicular stomatitis, but also will help in locating stolen or lost animals. Hickey said Louisiana has required the microchipping of horses for years in order to curb the spread of equine infectious anemia. The microchips are now going to prove helpful in locating horses that were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.The NAIS has three components: a premise identification, an animal identification and an animal tracking system. The program is voluntary but is expected to become mandatory. All three components are administered in Colorado by the state veterinarian’s office but will probably be passed on to brand inspectors and state associations as the program becomes mandatory.As of Nov. 7, more than 147,000 U.S. farms and ranches had registered with the USDA premise ID component of the system. This is the first step in the ID program – to identify locations that manage and hold animals.The Colorado State Veterinarian’s office is currently involved in a pilot project that will help implement the NAIS. The Colorado project will involve a minimum of 20 horses going to the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January 2006. “We’re hoping to have as many as 100 horses involved,” said State Veterinarian Wayne Cunningham. “The cards can provide a lot of information on the horse, including health history and photos and can serve as a passport for health and ownership purposes.”In the fall of 2003, the AHC organized an Equine Species Working Group to evaluate the concept of a national ID program, and develop standards. The group includes more than 35 equine industry representatives, including several from Colorado. Unanswered questions the working group is exploring include program costs, identification methods, the premises that should be included in the tracking system and what movements of horses should be tracked.”Since horses live longer and are often much more valuable than other livestock, it will be more difficult for us to comply,” Hickey said. But the American Horse Council and the organizations involved in the working group are determined to find solutions that benefit all horse owners. “If we don’t do it, we’re going to have it done to us.”To find out how to register your ranch or farm: www.livestocktrust.comFor more information on premise ID: general information on the NAIS: and

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