Specific birth documents or dentition will age cattle for the 30-month rule for BSE requirements.
by Corinne Patterson
On Jan. 12, 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued new rules to protect the public from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). In these regulations, specified risk materials (SRMs) in cattle more than 30 months (mo.) of age are not allowed into the human food supply. But the majority of steers and heifers dont exactly arrive at a feedyard or packing plant with birth certificates, at least not yet.
USDAs Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has determined that documentation, rather than dentition, can be the primary means of determining the age of cattle at harvest. They also say it is the best way because dentition provides a means of making only general determinations about age.
While certain documents will be considered, Dee Griffin, Extension veterinarian at the University of Nebraska (NU) Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center (GPVEC), warns that whether the documentation is accepted is up to the inspectors. But these inspectors do follow guidelines in their evaluations.
FSIS Notice 10-04, released Jan. 29, highlights some of the documentation requirements.
The characteristics of documentation that are most useful in determining the age of cattle offered at harvest are:
1. documentation (for example, records or certificates) that can be related to individual cattle and not just information about an entire lot; and
2. documentation that provides evidence of age that goes back to the farm where the cattle were born, including the name and address of the owner.
FSIS says examples of farm or ranch documentation may include:
1. pregnancy check records (checks for individual cows and the results of the check for each one);
2. records of which cows were in the herd when a bull was put in with the herd, and when the bull was removed from the herd (to determine start of gestation);
3. records that document when individual cows were artificially inseminated (AIed);
4. records that document where (name and address of the producer) and when the calf was born; or
5. identification applied to calves [for example, records from branding, electronic ear identification (ID) or ear tags].
What teeth will tell
Cattle have three types of teeth. The incisors, which are situated in the rostral portion of the mouth, or near the nasal region, are only found in the lower jaw. The other teeth are the premolars and molars, also known as cheek teeth, and are found in both the upper and lower jaws in the back region of the mouth.
When mouthing cattle for the 30-mo. rule, an inspector is looking for signs of age in the incisors. These incisors erupt at different months of age. Eruption is the emergence, penetration or piercing of the tooth or teeth through the gum line.
Incisors are ordered in pairs, from No. 1 through No. 4. During a dentition examination, the examiner looks at the animals mouth to see if at least one of the second set of permanent incisors (No. 3) has erupted to determine if the animal is more than 30 mo. of age (view www.fsis.usda.gov/ofo/tsc/bse_information.htm for more information).
While dentition isnt always 100% accurate in determining cattle age, Griffin says the error is made on the conservative side. "We know that if you look at the eruption of the first of the second pair, which would be considered incisor No. 3, there are going to be some animals [No. 3 incisors] that erupt prior to 30 months. There are going to be some that erupt after that, but there will be more that have tooth eruption and will not be 30 months," Griffin says.
For more information, watch for the complete story, "Dentitions New Role," on page 294 of the April 2004 Angus Journal or click here.