New tracking system implemented at Anderson farm

January 26, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - Driving past Anderson Circle Farm and its striking show barn on U.S. 127 gives no inkling to changes that are going on there, but changes are under way.

Maybe one change will be most evident on March 22 when the purebred Angus herd will be sold at auction.

What is happening is the development of farm management tools and practices and the ability to both track each animal on the farm while at the same time developing animals whose size, marbling, and tenderness can be predicted along with its genetic history.

Included in the farm's new focus is the development and testing of computer programs that will include accounting practices as well as the management of various animals including beef, pork, poultry, sheep and goats.

Industrialist Ralph Anderson, owner of Anderson Circle Farm, is using some of the staff at Belcan to develop the computer applications for the farm. Belcan is a Cincinnati engineering firm Anderson also owns.


Each farm worker carries a personal digital assistant and enters the work done during the day, including how much feed was fed to how many animals, etc. The day's information is dropped into a computer along with the day's work by other personnel and that gives the computer the information needed to determine what needs to be purchased and the level of all inventories.

Farm's focus has changed

Farm Manager Harvey Mitchell has returned to Anderson Circle Farm after spending about three years as chief of staff to the Kentucky agriculture commissioner. The farm's focus has changed, too, Mitchell says.

"We're switching from embryos and a purebred herd to commercial cattle products with a focus on branded beef and high quality replacement cows," Mitchell said.

Until now, one of the farm's products was a live Angus embryo which can be placed in any cow proven to be a good mother.

"We can sell you a cow in a box," Mitchell said. The embryo's gender can be determined, too, and females are more expensive than males.

Now, heifers born on the farm will be part of a development program that will determine which female animals will make the best mothers in a commercial beef operation as opposed to a purebred operation.

The male animals will become a high quality proven beef product that can be used as a brand-name animal.

Mitchell explained that some restaurants have their own beef brand and the steers raised on Anderson Circle Farm may be used in that way. One fast-food restaurant chain already sells an Angus burger.

"Eighty percent of beef cattle will deliver a calf that will be alive at weaning," Mitchell said. "Our goal is to help farmers improve that percentage."

Ninety-eight percent of Anderson Circle Farm's calves are alive at weaning.

Before an animal imported from Canada was found to have mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, it was possible to trace the history of 90 percent of the cattle in the country. "The (United States Agriculture Department) is second to none in guaranteeing the integrity of our food supply," Mitchell said.

Tracking animals will soon improve

Tracking animals will soon improve. The traditional ear tag in cattle is going high-tech and soon will have a computer chip that, when scanned, can tell the entire history of the animal, including where it was born, who its mother and father are, where it has been sold, who owned it, what it has been fed, and what medications and injections have been administered to the animal. The calves will be tagged very young and that tag with a chip will remain with the animal until it is harvested.

Predicting an animal's size, its marbling and tenderness is made possible by being able to track the animal's genetic history.

An increased beef herd may be part of the answer to the loss of farmers income from tobacco. Anderson Circle Farm will more than double the size of its herd and Mitchell maintains almost every farmer could double his herd's size.

"There are 48,000 tobacco producers in Kentucky and there are 44,000 beef producers and most people have both," Mitchell said. "So the logical expansion of beef herds will require proven physical and genetic history."

Two thousand heifers is the goal for Anderson Circle Farm.

The future of Anderson Circle Farm will not rest entirely on commercial beef cattle production for itself and other beef farmers.

There will be an intense forage management program on the farm and it is likely vegetables will be grown.

Agri-tourism already is important to the farm and Mitchell expects it to grow.

Fifty people on a bus toured the farm Friday.

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