Zealous farm traceability scheme

October 2005
A group of leading North Island farmers with 200,000 stock units have got together to provide improved traceability for meat and wool production.

The Zealous Group is chaired by farm business consultant Shane McManaway. It plans to gain markets and premiums by adding traceability at every step of the production chain.

Farmers will also gain improved production efficiencies by having a wealth of information. The RFID tags used will provide the means to track the productivity of individual animals.

Alister and Belinda Buchanan have 620ha effective, plus 323ha effective leased land, carrying 10,500 stock units. There are 6500 Rissington Highlander ewes and 1700 hoggets, with the rest of the stock units in steers.

The property is producing store lambs and prime beef. It is a dry Wairarapa hill country farm which receives only 860mm of rainfall annually.

Utilising a feeding pad built by Alisters father 30 years ago, steers are confined in four big concrete-floored pens, holding a maximum of 300 head for a planned 120 days. They come in at 470-480kg LW and are killed at 600kgs, with a weight gain of 120 kgs. The steers are purchased at 18 months and have a period of pasture feeding on the property before entering the feedlot. They are fed a ration of triticale grain, grass silage and beef pellets, with most of this feed being bought in, not grown on the property. There is a shed in the middle of the yards, with a roof covering the feeding areas.

The Buchanans are in the early days of producing prime steer beef for Korea, using a feedlot, a toll processor and private beef marketing arrangements. Cattle are tagged with re-usable electronic Zeetags (RFID) when they come on the property, weighed every week and the data captured electronically by the Edit-ID transponder/antennae attached to the Te Pari crush. The weigh station is a Tru-Test XR3000, which is rugged and portable. It holds all the unique ID numbers of the steers, so that each time an animal is weighed its added information is correctly assigned to that animal.

After each weighing session the batch on numbers is downloaded to a laptop computer in seconds, and the farm records updated. Belinda has set up the records on MS Access. Over time these records provide the traceability records which the overseas customers are requiring.

When cattle are consigned for slaughter, the RFID tags are removed and visual tags take the cattle to slaughter. The individual cattle IDs are retained in the system.

The Buchanans sent away the first trial consignment of 10 finished steers on Tuesday, September 6, they were killed on Wednesday and the carcases boned out on Thursday. Processing was done by River City Beef, Wanganui with the prime beef cuts specified by the Korean importers.

Belinda received back information on a batch basis, not by individual animal, although that will come in the future. Information includes carcase weights and grades, meat and fat colours but not saleable yield, which will also come in the future. Coupled with the origin and weight information stored by Belinda, the lifetime performance and weight gain records of those animals will be available to Alister and his team.

The aim is to get to complete paddock-to-plate traceability, so that a cattle beast receives an RFID tag soon after birth, which then stays with the animal as it moves farms, goes into the processing system and devolves to the beef cuts derived from that animal.