Producers trust in Health Track

The ability to capture critical data on each animal in a beef operation is more important than ever as livestock traceability increasingly becomes a focus of producers and consumers in every corner of the globe.

Radiofrequency identification (RFID) ear tags, such as those used by MFA’s Health Track program, assures that the data is accurate. Each tag is guaranteed to have a unique number and is permanent and non-removable. Information such as weaning weights, vaccination dates and more can be tied to that RFID number in a digital database for quick, accessible reference.

“When your cattle receive Health Track ear tags, you are qual­ified for every single program that wants to trace product all the way back to the original people who produced that animal,” said Mike John, MFA’s director of Health Track operations. “I think that’s a huge benefit not only from a production stand­point, but also for future market access.”

This technology is just one example of the benefits Health Track has been bringing producers since its beginning 21 years ago. It’s one of the oldest, largest and most unique precondition­ing programs in the nation with nearly 800,000 head of cattle tagged—and counting. Health Track participants give enrolled calves two rounds of vaccinations, provide MFA-recommended feed and follow a 45-day weaning period.

In addition to helping ensure animal health before and after weaning, Health Track can help producers earn a premium price at the sale barn.

One such producer is David Sudbrock, who raises Hereford and red Angus cattle near Centralia, Mo. Prior to using Health Track, Sudbrock would take his feeder calves straight to the sale barn after weaning. He also tried weaning for 30 days, but the calves usually ended up getting sick before they were ready to be sold.

Since making the switch to Health Track in 2001, Sudbrock says he has seen a sig­nificant difference in the overall health and quality of his calves. Nearly 20 years later, the program has become a tried-and-true method on his farm.

“You keep better track of your cattle. You get your weights and proper vaccinations, then you wean them longer,” Sudbrock said. “I also believe they sell better. It’s worked out well for us.”

He says a contributing factor in the de­cision to stay involved in the program has been his positive experiences with MFA, particularly with Key Account Manager (KAM) Wendy Flatt Beard. She and other MFA livestock KAMs work closely with producers throughout all stages of the program. This includes tagging calves, setting up the vaccination protocols, collecting and inputting data and following up after the calves are sold.

“We not only interact with the producers, but we become part of their operation and they trust us with the information we’re giving them,” Beard said. “If we don’t have that trust built up—proving that we know what we’re talking about—then they’re not going to utilize our services. That’s just what it comes down to.”

In the future, the information captured and stored by Health Track could also influence consumers’ relation­ship with agriculture by promoting greater trust, trace­ability and transparency in the beef industry, John said.

It’s not necessarily a matter of if, but when, this will become a reality, he adds. “It’s not going to be anony­mous anymore,” John said. “People are going to know where their food came from.”

Putting people first

It’s no surprise that Tony Koger, recently retired MFA live­stock specialist, has been called a Health Track legend. Out of the 800,000 calves enrolled in the program, Koger has tagged 104,697 of them, approximately 13% of the total.

Koger retired in June 2021, after almost 29 years with the company. His contributions to the Health Track program and its participants exemplify the program’s focus on customer partnering.

“Building relationships with the producers and people I work with has been one of the most rewarding parts,” Koger said. “As far as the value of these relationships, I’m not sure you can put a number on it.”

During his career, Koger said he truly became part of his producers’ operations. He’s not the only one. Health Track is founded on the partnerships formed between customers and employees, said Mike John, MFA’s director of Health Track operations. He believes this relationship-driven mindset is the main reason for the program’s continued success.

“When we step on somebody’s farm who’s in Health Track, we know that they’re committed to doing something better, and that’s been incredibly valuable for both parties—both for MFA and for our customer base,” John said. “When you start developing that relationship, it gets to be about not only customer service but also results.”

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