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Retinal scans eyed for New Mexico show cattle

It sounds like science fiction, but New Mexico State University researchers are testing advanced eye-scanning technology on cattle as part of a national tracking system for animal health.

"Retinal scans are part of a growing technological trend in cattle identification," said Manny Encinias, livestock specialist at NMSU's Clayton Livestock Research Center. "It painlessly flashes a beam of light into the eyeball and records the pattern of veins in the eye."

Each retina, whether bovine or human, is unique and a scan is considered one of the most accurate forms of identification, he said.

The NMSU evaluations are part of an accelerating effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a National Animal Identification System. The goal is to track and identify all animals and premises that have had contact with an animal disease of concern within 48 hours of an initial diagnosis.

In a first-of-its kind project for New Mexico, scientists tested 35 market steers from 18 Quay County farm families, using a combination of eye-scanning and radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags for animal ID evaluation. Most of the cattle were high-value 4-H and FFA show cattle that spent much of the past season moving between regional livestock fairs.

Encinias used a $3,000 retinal scanner not much bigger than a small video camera to record the IDs at three locations over a six-month period. To make the digital record, the cow is held in what's known as a squeeze chute and the scanner's eye-cup, specially molded for a cow's face, is held to each animal's eye.

The scanner senses when the eye is open, automatically makes an image, and downloads the data to a computer database. In addition to the retinal image, the device records the date, time and a global positioning satellite coordinate of the location.

"It's as simple as taking a picture," Encinias said. "Plus, we can do everything at chute side."

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Source:New Mexico State University


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