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March 6, 2008

Beef cattle sales barns to benefit from LED screen technology

The Verified Beef Production (VBP) program is supporting a new pilot project that is taking LED screen technology to the auction barn.

The system adds "a little Hollywood," to the sales barn experience, says Dan Ferguson, a Northumberland, Ont., cow-calf producer and VBP coordinator for eastern Ontario. Most important, it provides instant, improved information to benefit both buyers and sellers, including the identification of lots that are from operations that have registered with the VBP program – Canada's verified on-farm food safety program for beef.

"More producers are choosing to become VBP registered, to capture the marketing advantage of food safety verification," says Ferguson, who has pilot tested the technology at a half dozen different calf auctions in southern Ontario. "The LED screen technology is an important way to help identify these producers to cattle and beef buyers."

Typically, beef producers rely on sales catalog information and auctioneer introductions to keep up to speed with which cattle are in the sales ring and details on animal weight, owner and vaccinations.

Based on a computer software program, the pilot LED technology takes key parts of the catalog information and puts it up in lights, sending it scrolling across an easy-to-read LED screen that is located right behind and above the sales ring.

The information running across the 48 by six inch screen also includes confirmation of age verification – based on a 'real time' instant link to the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency database. Along with information on VBP registration, it also has capacity to include vaccination protocol information where available.

The LED screen pilot project was backed by the VBP program as a way to both improve the sales barn experience and to support the recognition of producers who are registered with the VBP program, says Terry Grajczyk, VBP program manager.

The VBP program is grassroots driven, participated in voluntarily by cattle producers who want to keep up to date with recognized on-farm food safety practices. Many also participate in the program to capture the growing marketing advantage of being able to provide verification that they follow good on-farm food safety practices.

The LED system being pilot tested includes a panel reader that identifies individual animals by reading RFID ear tags. "What happens in the sales barn is the calf goes past the panel reader before it goes over the weigh scale," explains Ferguson. "The reader identifies the animal by its ear tag, and this triggers the information related to that animal to begin scrolling across the screen."

The screen does not get in the way of the auctioneer's job and in fact complements it nicely, says Dave DeNure, who runs and serves as auctioneer at Hoard's Station auction barn near Campbellford, Ont., one of the pilot test locations.

"It worked very well here in the last sale," says DeNure. "The buyers really seemed to like it for the added information it had, and from the perspective that if they weren't paying attention in the catalogue the key information was right in front of them. It also seems to have good long-term potential, as age verification, vaccination protocols, food safety and other factors continue to become more important."

Plans for the next year are to take the technology to a half dozen or so more auction sales in Ontario and explore options to implement on a broader scale both in that and other provinces, says Ferguson. "We see an opportunity for this across the country."

In addition to support for development of the technology, provided by the VBP program, support for pilot testing in Ontario has been provided by the Ontario Cattlemen's Association (OCA) and the VBP program.

More information on the pilot project is featured in a new article, "VBP backs LED screen technology for the auction barn," available on the VBP Web at www.verifiedbeef.org. The VBP Web site also features information on program fundamentals, latest news and developments, including contact information to find out about VBP workshops across the country.